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‘Shortcuts Everywhere’: How Boeing Favored Speed Over Quality

[2024年4月5日] 来源:NY Times  整理:Geilien.cn   字号 [] [] []  
在华盛顿州伦顿进行试飞的波音737 Max 8型飞机。“他们只想提高飞机的生产速度,”一名曾在伦顿工作的机械师提到公司时说。
在华盛顿州伦顿进行试飞的波音737 Max 8型飞机。“他们只想提高飞机的生产速度,”一名曾在伦顿工作的机械师提到公司时说。 David Ryder/Bloomberg

In February last year, a new Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max plane was on one of its first flights when an automated stabilizing system appeared to malfunction, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing soon after they took off.
去年2月,美国西南航空公司的一架新波音737 Max客机首次飞行时,自动化稳定系统似乎出了故障,导致飞行员在起飞后不久紧急迫降。

Less than two months later, an Alaska Airlines 737 Max plane with eight hours of total flight time was briefly grounded until mechanics resolved a problem with a fire detection system. And in November, an engine on a just-delivered United Airlines 737 Max failed at 37,000 feet.
不到两个月后,美国阿拉斯加航空公司一架总飞行时间只有八个小时的737 Max客机被迫暂时停飞,直到机械师解决了机舱火警探测系统的问题。去年11月,美国联合航空公司一架刚交付使用的737 Max的发动机在1.1万米高空发生故障。

These incidents, which the airlines disclosed to the Federal Aviation Administration, were not widely reported. There were no indications that anyone was in danger, and it was not clear who was ultimately responsible for those problems. But since Jan. 5, when a panel on a two-month-old Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 jet blew off in midair, episodes like these have taken on new resonance, raising further questions about the quality of the planes Boeing is producing.
这几家美国航空公司报告给联邦航空管理局(简称FAA)的安全事故没有被广泛报道。没有迹象表明这些事故将乘客置于危险之中,也不清楚什么人最终对这些问题负有责任。但自从今年1月5日阿拉斯加航空公司一架机龄两个月的737 Max 9喷气式客机的一块机舱嵌板在半空脱落以来,类似事故引起了新的联想,使人们对波音公司生产的飞机质量产生了更多疑问。

“There’s a lot of areas where things don’t seem to be put together right in the first place,” said Joe Jacobsen, an engineer and aviation safety expert who spent more than a decade at Boeing and more than 25 years at the F.A.A.

“The theme is shortcuts everywhere — not doing the job right,” he added.

Such reports, and interviews with aviation safety experts and more than two dozen current and former Boeing employees, paint a worrying picture about a company long considered to be at the pinnacle of American engineering. They suggest that Boeing is struggling to improve quality years after two crashes of Max 8 planes in 2018 and 2019 killed nearly 350 people.
这些报告,以及对航空安全专家和20多名现任和前任波音员工的采访,为这家长期以来被视为美国工程技术巅峰的公司勾勒出一幅令人担忧的图景。发生在2018年和2019年的两起737 Max 8客机坠毁事故造成了将近350人死亡。受访者们表示,事故发生后的几年里,在提高质量方面,波音一直困难重重。

Some of the crucial layers of redundancies that are supposed to ensure that Boeing’s planes are safe appear to be strained, the people said. The experience level of Boeing’s work force has dropped since the start of the pandemic. The inspection process intended to provide a vital check on work done by its mechanics has been weakened over the years. And some suppliers have struggled to adhere to quality standards while producing parts at the pace Boeing wanted them.

Under pressure to show regulators, airlines and passengers that the company is taking its latest crisis seriously, Boeing announced sweeping changes to its leadership on Monday. The chief executive, Dave Calhoun, will leave at the end of the year, and Stan Deal, the head of the commercial planes division, which makes the 737 Max, retired immediately. The company’s chairman, Larry Kellner, stepped down from that position and will not seek re-election to the board.
迫于向监管机构、航空公司和乘客显示公司正在认真对待最新危机的压力,波音在上周一宣布对公司领导层进行全面调整。首席执行官戴夫·卡尔霍恩将于今年年底离职,商用飞机部门的负责人斯坦·迪尔将立即退休,737 Max由该部门生产。公司董事长拉里·凯尔纳辞去职务,并且不再寻求连任董事会成员。

When he took the top job in January 2020, Mr. Calhoun said he was determined to improve the company’s safety culture. It added directors with engineering and safety expertise and created a safety committee on its board. Boeing said that it had increased the number of quality inspectors for commercial planes by 20 percent since 2019 and that inspections per plane had also risen.

After the Max 8 crashes, Boeing and its regulators focused most on the cause of those accidents: flawed design and software. Yet some current and former employees say problems with manufacturing quality were also apparent to them at the time and should have been to executives and regulators as well.
737 Max 8坠机事件发生后,波音及其监管机构最关心的是事故原因:设计和软件上的缺陷。但一些现任和前任员工说,在他们看来,制造质量的问题当时也很明显,高管和监管人员也应该意识到了这点。

After the Jan. 5 mishap, a six-week F.A.A. audit of Boeing’s 737 Max production documented dozens of lapses in Boeing’s quality-control practices. The agency has given the company three months, or until about late May, to address quality-control issues.
1月5日的事故发生后,FAA对波音737 Max的生产过程进行了六周的稽查,记录了波音质量控制方面的几十处失误。FAA给了波音三个月时间(也就是大约在今年5月底之前)解决质量控制问题。

Federal officials have traced the panel blowout to Boeing’s factory in Renton, Wash., where the 737 Max is assembled. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the panel was removed but appeared to have been reinstalled without bolts that secured it in place. That panel is known as a “door plug” and is used to cover the gap left by an unneeded emergency exit.
联邦官员已将机舱嵌板脱落事故的原因追溯到波音在华盛顿州伦顿市组装737 Max的工厂。据美国国家运输安全委员会的说法,该嵌板曾被取下,但似乎在装回去时没有使用将其固定到位的螺栓。该嵌板被称为“门塞”,用来覆盖一个不需要的紧急出口留下的空缺。

Current and former Boeing employees said the incident reflected longstanding problems. Several said employees often faced intense pressure to meet production deadlines, sometimes leading to questionable practices that they feared could compromise quality and safety.

Davin Fischer, a former mechanic in Renton, who also spoke to the Seattle TV station KIRO 7, said he noticed a cultural shift starting around 2017, when the company introduced the Max.
伦顿工厂的前机械师达文·费舍尔也接受了西雅图电视台 KIRO 7的采访,他在采访中说,波音2017年推出737 Max机型后,他注意到公司的文化大约从那时起发生了变化。

“They were trying to get the plane rate up and then just kept crunching, crunching and crunching to go faster, faster, faster,” he said.

The Max was introduced in response to a new fuel-efficient plane from the European manufacturer Airbus. Boeing increased production from about 42 Max jets a month in early 2017 to about 52 the next year. That pace collapsed to virtually zero soon after the second crash, in Ethiopia, when regulators around the world grounded the plane. Flights aboard the Max resumed in late 2020, and the company began to increase production again to avoid falling further behind Airbus.
737 Max机型的推出是为了应对欧洲制造商空中客车的节油新机型。2017年初,737 Max机型的产量是每月约42架,波音在2018年将产量提高到每月约52架。埃塞俄比亚发生了第二次坠机事件后不久,世界各地的监管机构都停飞了该机型的客机,737 Max的生产速度几乎降为零。使用737 Max机型的航班2020年底复飞后,为了避免进一步落后于空客,波音再次开始提高产量。

Now, some Boeing executives admit that they made mistakes.

“For years, we prioritized the movement of the airplane through the factory over getting it done right, and that’s got to change,” Brian West, the company’s chief financial officer, said at an investor conference last week.

波音在伦顿的工厂,737 Max机型在这里组装。尽管公司存在问题,但许多员工说,他们仍对波音有深深的敬意,想看到公司恢复声誉。
波音在伦顿的工厂,737 Max机型在这里组装。尽管公司存在问题,但许多员工说,他们仍对波音有深深的敬意,想看到公司恢复声誉。 Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Mr. Calhoun has also acknowledged that Boeing must improve but has defended the company’s approach to production. “Over the last several years, we’ve taken close care not to push the system too fast, and we have never hesitated to slow down, to halt production or to stop deliveries to take the time we need to get things right,” he said in January. 卡尔霍恩也承认波音必须改进,但他为公司的生产方式进行了辩护。“过去几年里,我们一直非常小心,不把系统推得太快,为了花时间把事情做好,我们在放慢速度、停止生产、或停止交付方面从未犹豫过,”他今年1月说。

Current and former Boeing employees, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters and feared retaliation, offered examples of how quality has suffered over the years. Many said they still respected the company and its employees and wanted Boeing to succeed.

A worker currently at Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner factory in North Charleston, S.C., described seeing numerous problems on planes being assembled, including wires being routed incorrectly, raising the risk that they could rub against one another, resulting in damage.

Employees would also sometimes go “inspector shopping” to find someone who would approve work, the worker said.

Some of the concerns echoed accusations of quality lapses by several whistle-blowers at Boeing’s South Carolina factory who spoke to The Times in 2019.

Several current and former employees in South Carolina and in Washington State said mechanics building planes were allowed in some instances to sign off on their own work. Such “self-verification” removes a crucial layer of quality control, they said.

Boeing said in a statement on Wednesday that it had eliminated self-inspections in South Carolina in 2021 and that the practice accounted for less than 10 percent of inspections at other sites. The company inspects each plane before delivery to make sure that wire bundles are appropriately spaced, the statement said, and it does not allow inspector shopping.

Another factor at play in recent years has been that Boeing’s workers have less experience than they did before the pandemic.

When the pandemic took hold in early 2020, air travel plummeted, and many aviation executives believed it would take years for passengers to return in large numbers. Boeing began to cut jobs and encouraged workers to take buyouts or retire early. It ultimately lost about 19,000 employees companywide — including some with decades of experience.

Boeing now employs 171,000 people, including in its commercial plane, defense, services and other divisions. That figure is up about 20 percent from the end of 2020. But many new workers are less seasoned, current and former employees said.

One Boeing employee who conducted quality inspections in Washington State until last year said the company did not always provide new employees with sufficient training, sometimes leaving them to learn crucial skills from more experienced colleagues.

Boeing said that since Jan. 5, employees had asked for more training and that it was working on meeting those needs, including by adding training on the factory floor this month.

Niral Chokshi撰写有关航空、铁路和其他运输行业的文章。

Sydney Ember是时报商业记者,报道美国经济和劳工市场。

Santul Nerkar是一名报道财经和体育新闻的记者。

翻译:Cindy Hao