Saturday, 10 September 2011 19:53 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler
The news is out. Airline passenger safety is being compromised by the giant aircraft manufacturer Boeing. Whistle-blowing from within and investigative reporting without have revealed that the widely used Boeing 737NG aircraft, workhorses of the skies, have been manufactured using shortcuts in structural elements critical to the planes’ ability to fly safely.

If you are an airline passenger in a Boeing 737NG your safety could be at risk. Your loved ones could be at risk. These aircraft are in service around the world, including in my home country, Australia. We, the public, need to speak out.

We should because in the US, where the Boeing 737NG is manufactured, the US Federal Aviation Administration and the Defence Criminal Investigative Service have dismissed the dangers posed by these faulty aircraft and failed to act on documented evidence of defective parts used in manufacture.

Three Boeing 737NG aircraft have already crashed in circumstances that are alarmingly similar. On 5th February, 2009 a Turkish 737NG overshot the runway at Amsterdam in The Netherlands. Nine people died. On 23rd December, 2009, an American Airlines 737NG overshot the runway at Kingston airport in Jamaica. Forty passengers were injured. On 17th August 2010, a 737NG operated by Colombian Airlines overshot the runway on an island. One person died and dozens were injured.

Each aircraft broke into three pieces at exactly the same points on their fuselage and at each of these points faulty parts had been installed. All three aircraft were over eight years old, an age when serious problems with corrosion and cracking had been revealed.

Boeing has dismissed the safety issues as being without merit. And they have threatened the courageous whistle blowers Gigi Prewitt and Taylor Smith, who formerly worked for Boeing, but who put public safety first and spoke out.

Gigi Prewitt and Taylor Smith were among a team from Boeing sent to investigate the manufacture of vital structural elements of the Boeing 737NGs being supplied by the company AHF Ducommun and made in Gardina, California. Team members were shocked to see that chords and bear straps, structural elements critical to the aircrafts’ ability to fly safely, were not being made as specified. Manufacturing shortcuts resulted in ill-fitting parts. However, Boeing engineers in the company factory were nevertheless obliged to use these chords and bear straps, forcing them into place when they did not fit exactly. The resulting dangers of metal stress and metal fatigue were ignored.

Taylor Smith and Gigi Prewitt were among a handful of brave and concerned witnesses who spoke to Al Jazeera English reporter Tim Tate during the making of his investigative documentary On a Wing and a Prayer. This documentary, which details the problems within Boeing, aired on Australian TV on the SBS current affairs program Dateline in June. I found it alarming and disturbing.

Tim Tate and his witnesses have gone out on a limb to serve the public. The big question now is when will the public service regulatory bodies begin serving the public, putting our safety first instead of serving big industry and vested interests. I’m not willing to climb on board a Boeing 737NG now that I know the risks.

Are you?

Image Courtesy of Google Images - On 5th February, 2009 a Turkish 737NG overshot the runway at Amsterdam in The Netherlands. Nine people died.

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