US Air Force, Boeing has ‘severe situation’ , Safety Culture

(CNN) US Air Force says Boeing has ‘severe situation’ after trash found on refueling planes.

This is not  about neatness.  Quoting,

Boeing will now have to conduct spot inspections on the aircraft during production, including specific areas of the planes that may be sealed as part of the production processes…Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, made clear his concerns after visiting Boeing’s Everett Washington plant where the plane is assembled…

…Roper  emphasized to reporters that while the issue of the material and objects — known as Foreign Object Debris, or FOD — being left inside an aircraft as it comes off the production line is not a design or safety risk [boldface mine], it is a matter of great concern to the military.

Oh yes it is. Roper engages in double-speak. Maybe he doesn’t want to bash Boeing when they’re down.

“FOD is really about every person, everyone in the workforce, following those procedures and bringing a culture of discipline for safety,” Roper said.

More double-speak.  In the first paragraph, it’s not a safety risk. In the second paragraph, it’s about safety. Since Roper seems to be editing himself, I’ll explain. An airplane contains many voids that are sealed, or baffled from direct view by welded metal. Tools left in  voids are as dangerous as surgical clamps left in a patient. Follow this chain:

  • The tanker plane is made of aluminum. Aluminum is a soft metal, with finite fatigue life.
  • Aircraft tools  are made of extremely hard molybdenum alloy, with infinite fatigue life.
  • In the high vibration environment of an aircraft fuselage, a tool left in a sealed void for years  bounces around, fatiguing the aluminum, accelerating crack growth, and scratching off anti corrosion coatings.
  • Moisture in the air, and condensation, combined with the dissimilar metals of steel and aluminum form a battery, resulting in galvanic corrosion.
  • What happens if the tool spends years banging against a cold-bond (glued aluminum) lap joint? You could have something like an Aloha Flight 243.

As an airplane ages, the wiring deteriorates as well. Trash left in a void could combine with a minor electrical flaw to cause a fire.

So this is not about delivering tidy planes to the Air Force. Wherever feasible, voids of KC-46 planes already delivered should be imaged, to avert possible future catastrophes.

But what can be done to instill pride in  a workforce that thinks this way?