Boeing whistleblower found dead after giving evidence against plane maker

Boeing whistleblower found dead after giving evidence against plane maker
Safety concerns about Boeing's production standards are ongoing (Image credit: @wolterke/Adobe Stock)

A whistleblower has been found dead in the US days after giving evidence against Boeing in a lawsuit.

62-year-old John Barnett died from “what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound” on 9 March and police are investigating the incident, the Charleston County Coroner’s Office told media this week.

Barnett had worked for Boeing for 32 years until his retirement in 2017 and was known for raising concerns about the manufacturer’s production standards.

In response to the news of his death, a Boeing spokesperson said: “We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

The news comes after the plane maker has suffered reputational damage in light of an incident in January where a door panel blew off an Alaska Airlines Boeing B737 MAX 9 aircraft mid-flight.

An investigation into the incident determined that missing bolts caused the door panel to fall off.

Serious safety concerns have been raised by airlines and regulators alike over the plane maker’s production standards since January.

From 2010, Barnett worked as a quality manager at the North Charleston plant making the 787 Dreamliner.

In 2019, he told BBC News that under-pressure workers had been deliberately fitting sub-standard parts to aircraft on the production line.

He also said he had uncovered serious problems with oxygen systems, which could mean one in four breathing masks would not work in an emergency.

In the same year, Barnett also told The New York Times that he had discovered clusters of metal shavings left near electrical systems for flight controls, which he said could have “catastrophic” results if the shavings penetrated the wiring.

The whistleblower said he repeatedly raised his concerns to his bosses but was ignored and instead transferred to another part of the plant. Boeing has denied Barnett’s claims.

He later filed a whistleblower complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration – the US civil aviation regulator.

In 2017, the FAA issued a directive requiring that 787s be cleared of shavings before delivery, according to the story.

Reuters reports today that Southwest Airlines has cut its forecast for the number of aircraft deliveries it expects from Boeing, causing the largest domestic US carrier to cut its capacity for the second half of this year.

Since the Alaska Airlines incident in January, it has been rumoured that a number of major airlines would pull out of Boeing orders over growing safety concerns.