Boeing sued maker of door plugs over 'quality failures' before Alaska Airlines exploded in mid-air

The manufacturer of an Alaska Airlines door plug that disconnected mid-air during a flight was the subject of a class action lawsuit last year alleging “widespread quality failures.”

Boeing is under intense scrutiny after Friday's crash of Alaska Flight 1282. Six minutes after takeoff one of the plane's panels snapped off, leaving a gaping hole that left the passengers absolutely terrified. The packed 737 Max 9 was headed to Ontario, California before returning to its departure point in Portland, Oregon.

Spirit Aero Systems, The th manufacturere Door plug, said Wednesday it supports a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the flight. “As a company, we are focused on the quality of every piece of aircraft that leaves our facilities,” the company, which is not affiliated with Spirit Airlines, said in the statement.

Court documents reveal that Spirit Aerosystems' investors have long had problems with the quality of its products, particularly after the 737 Max tragedies in October 2018 and March 2019, when two planes went down, killing all on board.

The company is the subject of a federal class action lawsuit filed in New York in May by its investors alleging a history of “consistent” quality failures.

Spirit Aerosystems is a major supplier of components to Boeing, and one of its primary roles is manufacturing most of the fuselages used on Boeing 737 aircraft.

Spirit Aerosystems told NBC News in a statement that it “strongly disagrees” with the assertions made in the lawsuit and will “vigorously defend against the claims.” A Boeing spokeswoman responded that the company had nothing to add to the lawsuit.

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Although the suit does not mention door plugs, that part of the aircraft is attached to the fuselages.

Despite investors stressing the importance of the 737 Max program after the plane crashes, Spirit Aerosystems shared promises and statements about its refined processes and safeguards, but concealed from investors that Spirit suffered from widespread and persistent quality failures, the lawsuit said. “

The failures include defects such as the “routine presence of foreign material debris”, fasteners and peeling paint in its products.

The lawsuit alleged that the quality failures were the result of a corporate culture that prioritized short-term financial results over production numbers and quality.

The Spirit Aerosystems' quality failures were so severe and persistent that Boeing placed it on probation for several years, from 2018 to 2021.

The case highlights an ethics complaint disclosed to investors in March 2022 that an employee was told to falsify documents to underreport the number of defects in Spirit Aerosystems products.

The employee's email read, “I have lost faith in the quality system here at Spirit and this is my last cry for help to resolve this issue.”

Improperly drilled holes in the 737 Max off pressure bulkhead, quality failures cited in the suit as the “most significant problem” brought to light in October 2022 by Spirit Aerosystems' product and process verification lead quality auditor, the suit said. That bulkhead is necessary to maintain cabin pressure during flight. Despite the defect being reported, the suit claimed Spirit Aerosystems covered it up.

In August, Boeing disclosed to the media that it had identified “fastener holes that did not meet our specifications in the rear pressure bulkhead on certain 737 aircraft.” Then Spirit Aerosystems “belatedly” confirmed the problem in a news release, the lawsuit said.

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Another alleged quality defect is the defective tail fin fittings on certain 737 MAX aircraft.

Boeing informed the media that it became aware of the defect on April 13. The defect was found to be caused by improper installation of fittings by Spirit Aerosystems, the suit contended. After Boeing disclosed it, Spirit Aerosystems “lately confirmed a tail fin mounting defect”.

When those issues came to light, they caused Spirit Aerosystems' stock to plummet, and the plaintiffs suffered “significant losses and damages” due to the company's “false and/or misleading statements and/or material omissions.”

In the Alaska Airlines case, investigators will examine whether a blown door plug was caused by Spirit Aerosystems' manufacturing process or a Boeing assembly line.

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