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Saturday, May 28, 2005 - Page updated at 07:34 a.m.

Boeing lawsuit alleges "bogus" parts

The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle

WICHITA, Kan. — Three members of a Boeing Wichita internal investigative team are suing the plane maker on behalf of the U.S. government, claiming dozens of aircraft with subassemblies manufactured in Wichita contained defective parts.

The three, described as senior employees of Boeing, also contend that the company knew about "bogus" parts and continued to buy them from Ducommun of California, which is also named in the potentially multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

The suit says Ducommun's plant in Gardena, Calif., made the nearly 2,000 defective parts used in 32 Boeing airplanes. The questionable parts ended up in subassemblies built in Wichita for 737s, 747s, 757s and 767s that were delivered for sale from March 1998 through November 2004, the suit says.

Papers filed in federal court Thursday say the parts, which produced unsafe aircraft, ended up on planes delivered to the U.S. Air Force and Navy and foreign military forces.

Boeing officials did not learn about the lawsuit until late Thursday afternoon and said they could not comment on specifics.

Ducommun executives were traveling and unavailable, according to the company.

James Ailes of Wichita, Jeannine "Gigi" Prewitt of Derby, Kan., and Taylor Smith, now of Savannah, Ga., are bringing the lawsuit for the U.S. government. They contend that Boeing defrauded the government by claiming to be selling approved aircraft to the military, when in fact, the suit contends, the planes contained parts that compromise safety.

A lawyer representing the three said they would not comment beyond what was contained in the suit.

Such actions, called "whistle-blower" lawsuits, are uncommon and have to be reviewed by the government.

The suit was filed under seal in March, while its claims were investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

After the government completed its review, the seal was lifted Thursday afternoon, making the suit public.

Among its claims:

Aircraft parts that did not pass minimum safety requirements by the Federal Aviation Administration ended up on Boeing planes sold to the Navy and Air Force for more than $1.5 billion.

Aircraft with similar parts were also bought with U.S. money for delivery to foreign military forces, including those in Japan, Italy, Turkey and Australia.

Boeing ignored or covered up information reported by the investigative teams, which pointed to the use of defective parts and deficiencies in quality control at the Wichita aircraft plant.

In 1999, the lawsuit said, Boeing's investigation found Ducommun's documentation for making its aircraft parts did not conform to FAA requirements.

Based on that report, a quality field representative for Boeing wrote a report suspending Ducommun's delivery of parts to the Wichita plant. That report, the lawsuit says, was deleted from Boeing's computer system the following day.

"As a result thereof, Ducommun continued to deliver bogus, defective and nonconforming parts to Boeing Wichita," the suit claims.

Ailes, Smith and Prewitt say they were members of a "Tool Audit Team" — another internal audit task force — formed by Boeing in the spring of 2000.

The Tool Audit Team said it found Ducommun "kept two sets of books" for its parts manufacturing.

"These fake books," the suit said, "were used to obtain the approval of Boeing for the Ducommun parts under the FAA requirements. The 'real books' used by Ducommun fabrication personnel on the shop floor to actually make certain parts utilized an altogether different manufacturing process."

The three investigators say that because of reports criticizing Boeing's own quality-control procedures for failing to catch the use of defective parts, they "became the subjects of harassment, threats and intimidation."

The suit seeks at least $10,000 for each instance of false claims made by Boeing to the U.S. government concerning the quality and safety of the aircraft.

If the courts construe that as being for each part considered defective, the potential claim could surpass $19 million.

The suit has been assigned to U.S. Senior District Judge Wesley Brown.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company



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