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Boeing fails large portion of FAA audit as investigators probe New Zealand 787 incident

Dozens of issues found in audit of Boeing 737 Max
Dozens of issues found in audit of Boeing 737 Max 02:42

As an investigation gets underway to find out what went wrong on the LATAM Airlines flight from Sydney, Australia, to Auckland, New Zealand, that left 50 passengers injured on Monday, new details about another Boeing audit conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration reveal that the company failed large portions of that evaluation.

The audit specifically looked at the production of Boeing's 737 Max, following Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, in January, which was forced to make an emergency landing after a door plug suddenly blew out mid-air on a 737 Max 9 jet. Boeing failed 33 of the audit's 89 sections, CBS News confirmed, with regulators finding 97 examples of the company's alleged non-compliance with many of its own best practices.

The Alaska Airlines incident called into question the safety of the 737 Max 9 jet and Boeing's production standards more broadly, especially since preliminary results of an investigation by the National Transportation and Safety Board into the Alaska flight found that four key bolts meant to hold the door plug in place were missing from the aircraft. The probe so far indicates that the bolts holding that panel in place were not reinstalled during the plane's manufacturing process.

Both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines said later that they found loose hardware on 737 Max 9 aircrafts that were grounded in the wake of the door plug fiasco, and the FAA is conducting an ongoing investigation into Flight 1282 to determine exactly what happened, and whether Boeing "failed to ensure" that its aircrafts "were in a condition for safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations."

LATAM Airlines Flight 800 was a different Boeing aircraft model than the one used during the Alaska flight — the 787, which is considerably larger than the 737 Max 9. Compared with 174 passengers and six crew members on board the Alaska flight in January, the LATAM flight was carrying around 260 passengers and nine crew members when it abruptly dropped on its route to Auckland. The jolt sent some passengers hurtling into the aircraft's ceiling and left some bloodied. Around 50 passengers were hurt, and 13 were taken to hospitals for treatment after the plane landed.

LATAM said in a statement that the flight experienced technical issues that "caused a strong movement" of the aircraft.

"LATAM regrets the inconvenience and injury this situation may have caused its passengers, and reiterates its commitment to safety as a priority within the framework of its operational standards," the airline said. 

New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission announced on Tuesday that it would seize the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder from the aircraft in hopes of learning more about what happened, but early reports suggest that the 787 plane's flight control system may have temporarily malfunctioned.

"The best way to describe it is, it dropped out of the air instantly," said Brian Jokat, a passenger on the LATAM flight. "Then it started to tail down, like, nose down."

Given the spate of recent aircraft incidents in the United States and worldwide, the union representing American Airlines pilots is now calling on the FAA to increase oversight of airlines and maintenance facilities. The U.S. Department of Justice has also launched a criminal investigation into Boeing, stemming from the Alaska Airlines flight, CBS News has learned. 

Boeing declined to comment on the Justice Department probe, but indicated that it is cooperating with all ongoing investigations and making immediate changes to improve its quality control and safety. 

The audit was first reported by The New York Times.

FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker said at a news briefing that the agency has "dramatically increased" oversight regarding "the actual production" of the Boeing 737 Max 9 jets and, for that reason, certifies the planes as safe now.

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