Boeing's factory in North Charleston, S.C., one of two plants that produces the 787 Dreamliner, has faced problems with production and oversight that create a safety threat, the New York Times reported.
The Times cited a review of internal emails, corporate documents and federal records, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees.
Faulty parts have been installed in some of the planes, and metal shavings were often left inside the jets. A technician at the plant, Joseph Clayton, said he routinely found debris dangerously close to wiring beneath cockpits.
Brad Zaback, Boeing South Carolina's site leader, disputed the report in an email to his team, saying the manufacturing operations are healthy and it's performing strongly based on its quality metrics. The newspaper also declined Boeing's invitation to visit that site, he said.
The report "paints a skewed and inaccurate picture of the program and of our team here at Boeing South Carolina," he said. "This article features distorted information, rehashing old stories and rumors that have long ago been put to rest."
John Barnett, a former quality manager who retired in 2017 after almost three decades at Boeing, said he found clusters of metal slivers hanging over the wiring that commands flight controls. A US Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson, Lynn Lunsford, said the agency inspected several planes that Boeing had certified as free of such debris and found the same metal slivers.
Less than a month after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max jet on March 10, which came five months after another Boeing 737 Max crashed in Indonesia, Boeing called North Charleston employees to a meeting and told them customers were finding random objects in new planes.
In 2014, Qatar Airways stopped taking 787 Dreamliners from North Charleston after complaining workers had damaged plane exteriors. The airline's chief executive officer chastised the North Charleston workers, saying they weren't being transparent about the length or cause of the delays.
Qatar Airways has since only taken Dreamliners built in Everett, Washington. Qatar said in a statement to the New York Times it "continues to be a long-term supporter of Boeing and has full confidence in all its aircraft and manufacturing facilities."
Boeing's head of commercial airplanes, Kevin McAllister, defended the South Carolina team and said they were producing the highest levels of quality. "I am proud of our teams' exceptional commitment to quality and stand behind the work they do each and every day," McAllister said.
The newspaper's report comes as Boeing is close to submitting its software fix linked with the two fatal 737 Max accidents. Once Boeing's proposed fix is finalised, it will be reviewed by US regulators. The FAA's testing could go beyond June.