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Boeing could face $5.4M fine over defective 737 MAX parts, says FAA

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it could fine Boeing Co. $5.4 million for allegedly installing defective wing parts on dozens of 737 MAX airplanes which the company subsequently presented as ready for final FAA airworthiness certification.

The FAA said Boeing installed defective slat tracks, which are used to guide the movement of wing panels to provide additional lift during takeoff and landing, on approximately 178 Boeing 737 MAX aircrafts. The aviation regulator said Boeing failed to ensure that its suppliers complied with the company's quality assurance system, resulting in the installation of a batch of slat tracks which had failed a strength test.

The latest proposed civil penalty is in addition to a previous $3.9 million fine that the FAA levied against Boeing in December 2019 for allegedly installing the same defective wing parts on about 133 Boeing 737 Next Generation aircrafts.

The FAA said the parts were processed by Southwest United Industries Inc., which supplied them to Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. between June and July 2018. Spirit AeroSystems then delivered the parts to Boeing.

The air regulator said that in July 2018 Southwest United Industries told Kencoa Aerospace LLC that a batch of slat tracks had failed a quality test due to a condition called hydrogen embrittlement that occurred during cadmium-titanium plating. The information reached Spirit AeroSystems in August 2018, who in turn informed Boeing in September of that year.

Despite the information, the FAA said Boeing "knowingly submitted aircraft for final FAA airworthiness certification after determining that the parts could not be used due to a failed strength test" between August 2018 and March 2019.

"Boeing failed in this instance to maintain its quality system to ensure suppliers adhered to Federal Aviation Regulations," the regulator said.

Boeing has 30 days to respond to the FAA regarding the matter.

In a separate action, the FAA proposed a $3.92 million fine against Southwest Airlines Co. for allegedly operating 44 aircraft on a total of 21,505 flights with incorrect calculations of weight and balance data. These are used to determine how many passengers and how much fuel an airplane could safely take on, as well as where to load cargo.

"Southwest's operation of these aircraft was contrary to the airline's approved weight-and-balance program and FAA-issued operations specifications," the FAA said. Southwest has 30 days to respond to the FAA.

Adding to the negative impact of the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX and subsequent production suspension, Boeing parts supplier Spirit AeroSystems said it will lay off about 2,800 employees at its facility in Wichita, Kan., with smaller workforce reductions scheduled this month for its Tulsa and McAlester, Okla., plants. The MAX program represents more than 50% of Spirit's annual revenue, according to the company.