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By Doug Cameron and Andy Pasztor
The Federal Aviation Administration said it is investigating alleged production issues at a Boeing Co. factory near Seattle, where the plane maker assembles the 737 MAX. The disclosure followed testimony from a retired manager who told a congressional committee he had warned repeatedly about shoddy work arising from pressure to produce the aircraft more quickly.
Ed Pierson, the retired Boeing manager, told a House Transportation Committee hearing on Wednesday that company executives, its board and U.S. regulators ignored his warnings about the potential for production issues to affect the quality and safety of planes rolling off the lines.
His testimony came at a hearing largely focused on the interplay between Boeing and the FAA over the approval of the MAX; agency deliberations after the first of two fatal crashes of the jetliner; and its expected return to service in coming months.
Mr. Pierson said Boeing's efforts to boost production of the MAX led to "chaotic" scenes on the factory floor last year as work fell behind schedule, which could have compromised established safety procedures.
In particular, he questioned how sensors linked to both crashes could fail on new planes.
"It is alarming that these sensors failed on multiple flights mere months after the airplanes were manufactured," he said at the hearing.
FAA chief Steve Dickson said earlier at the hearing that he was aware of Mr. Pierson's concerns. Boeing and investigators have said they see no connection between the problems Mr. Pierson flagged and the MAX crisis, which has been driven by software-design issues, not production issues.
Mr. Dickson didn't provide a timeline for the completion of its review of the Boeing assembly line, but pledged to interview more workers.
Mr. Dickson was named head of the FAA in August and wasn't involved in any of the original MAX certification issues or the immediate fallout from the crashes.
In his first detailed congressional testimony about the MAX, Mr. Dickson sought to acknowledge past agency mistakes regarding the jet, without blaming specific FAA officials.
The former Delta Air Lines Inc. pilot and executive said, during sometimes heated exchanges with lawmakers, said he was convinced FAA engineers and others acted based on the best available information. "All processes need to be improved, each and every day," he said.
He vowed to reassess the agency's safety-oversight practices and said he would ensure more transparency from Boeing and other manufacturers about design changes on new aircraft models.
Mr. Dickson said he hadn't made a decision about whether the plane maker should be hit with a civil penalty or other punishment for any MAX lapses, or for various production faults.
Boeing shares rose 0.6%, or $2.10, to $350.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 11, 2019 17:47 ET (22:47 GMT)
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