O-Fans know I’m working hard on connecting the dots between recent disasters and scandals, and the ISO and AS certification schemes. Many readers have written in asking about whether AS9100 is at the heart of Boeing’s recent troubles, namely a one-two punch of having their 737MAX8 and 9 fleets grounded across the world, followed by the news that the US Army is furious after finding FOD in newly-delivered KC-46 tankers. Those haulers were also grounded.
I’ve both studied this from the outside, launching one of the usual Oxebridge investigations; but I also have some level of experience, having worked directly with multiple suppliers responsible for various 737MAX components. The short story is this: so far, the AS9100 scheme has dodged a bullet. There is no connection — yet — to the problems and any AS9100 certified companies. As a result, I can say for now that no AS9100 CB would have caught these problems ahead of time.
Now, I could be wrong, and I’m still digging. But this appears true, as of right now.
Why? Because the root of both problems appears to be Boeing’s farcical clown show it calls the Everett WA manufacturing facility. And that facility is not AS9100 certified.
That in itself is largely hilarious, given how Boeing is so crazy about flowing down AS9100 to its entire supply chain, and sometimes to suppliers-of-suppliers. What this says is that Boeing can’t be bothered to do what it tells everyone else to do, probably out of a mix of fear (they know they wouldn’t conform) and arrogance (“we’re Boeing, goddammit!”)
Oh, but the Everett distribution depot has AS9120 certification, the easiest of the family. But not manufacturing. The fact that Boeing made a decision not to certify the more critical part of the Everett campus, but to certify a less critical one under an easier standard, says a lot.
Keep in mind, Boeing is essentially running the AS9100 scheme, with its employees dominating the proceedings at the IAQG meetings and AS9100 drafting sessions. Boeing’s Tim Lee — a former receiving inspector — has terrorized the industry with his stupid PEAR form. Boeing’s Alan Daniels treads the IAQG boards but has even taken over the Chair position of US TAG 176, which writes the ISO 9001 standard. So their influence is growing in crafting standards they refuse to apply to themselves.
Sounds legit, amiright?
The Everett FOD problems aren’t new, either. The FAA fined Boeing over $12 million in a settlement from 2015, stemming from multiple prior violations including tools left inside a 777 door, inspection report falsification, and generally dangerous violations of internal procedures. Before that, violations were found by FAA in 2000 for nearly the exact same problems.
To put this in perspective, a $12M file for a company that earned $100 billion in 2018 would be equivalent of fining a person who earns $30,000 a year a whopping $360 bucks, or about the price of a new Playstation. Imagine killing hundreds of people and then being told your punishment is that you will have to settle for a Nokia cellphone, because you can’t afford a Samsung Galaxy. Oh, the pain!
So it’s clear that Boeing doesn’t really give a shit about the FAA, and that the FAA doesn’t really care what Boeing does. It’s all kabuki. Now, however the fleets are grounded, hundreds of people are dead, and tens of thousands of jobs are on the line.
So, thanks, Boeing. Thanks, FAA.
But for now, we can say that AS9100 had nothing to do with it. In fact, one might argue — albeit ineffectively — that had Everett WA committed to AS9100 certification, they might have avoided these messes.
About Christopher Paris
Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001:2015. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.