The Boeing Supply Chain Failure

by Carolyn Mathas

When an Alaska Airlines-branded plane lost its door mid-flight, it led to the grounding of all Boeing’s 737 MAX 9 model planes. This followed a halt of all flights on the 737 MAX 9 in the late 2010s after two fatal crashes. Now, a new report from NPR looks at how breakdowns in the supply chain might have impacted the aircraft.

NPR describes communication problems between the manufacturers of the 737 MAX 9, Spirit AeroSystems, and Boeing, saying that deliveries of plane parts are paramount to safety checks and a job done the right way. However, a Spirit employee was quoted as saying, “We’re having a pizza party because we’re lowering defects. But we’re not lowering defects. We just ain’t reporting them, you know what I mean?”

Setting defined objectives, roles, and standards for measurement reporting could help prevent disasters in the future.

The steps between each party in the supply chain must be measurable and easy to refer to. When Boeing says that the process hasn’t “been up to engineering standards” and that they’re in close contact with Spirit over the issues identified in the supply chain, it seems like a step in the right direction. However, a lack of accountability and measurable communication caused this problem in the first place.

The NPR report also disclosed that an employee of Spirit said he was fired for pointing out flaws in aircraft parts, describing a toxic work culture prioritizing speed over communication and safety. If Spirit had a process for reporting these issues as they happened and instituted a dialogue with Boeing about how to remedy them,  this situation could have been avoided entirely.

Supply chain partners are partners, not external stakeholders, who should have any information withheld from them. Frequent, clear, and transparent communication is necessary to keep the supply chain moving along smoothly while minimizing the risk and potential reputational damage that can happen. Ignoring this can lead to publicity disasters like the one Boeing and Spirit are currently experiencing and can even endanger lives.

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