Whistleblower Claims Boeing Subcontractor Fired Him for Raising Concerns About 787 Dreamliner

Boeing factory assembley line for 787 commercial airliner.

A subcontractor mechanic who worked on Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner has alleged that he was retaliated against after raising concerns about work he observed on the plane, according to a statement from attorneys representing him as a whistleblower.

Richard Cuevas claimed that he observed “substandard manufacturing and maintenance practices” on the 787’s forward pressure bulkhead—a dome shaped piece located in the jet’s nose that is critical to maintaining cabin pressure, according to a statement by attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks.

In 2023, Cuevas was contracted by an aviation staffing company to do repair work for Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. at a Boeing hangar in Everett, Washington, and later at a Spirit supplier. He alleged that he witnessed holes being improperly drilled on the 787 bulkhead in a way that deviated from Boeing’s manufacturing specifications. The changes were made without Boeing’s permission, the lawyers said.

Boeing said in a statement that the claims were reported previously and thoroughly investigated. Analysis showed the issues raised posed no safety concerns and were addressed, the company said, adding that it is not involved in the personnel decisions of subcontractors.

The “unauthorized change” caused fasteners to not fit properly into those holes, “seriously undermining the integrity of the aircraft,” his attorneys said in a whistleblower complaint filed with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration that was made public on Wednesday. His allegations were also laid out in a separate complaint filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Cuevas claimed Spirit fired him in March 2024 after he reported the issues internally, first with Spirit and then with Boeing. He estimated that the alleged problems he observed may impact as many as a dozen planes, according to his attorneys’ statement.

“Our leadership is aware of the allegations and looking into the matter,” Spirit spokesman Joe Buccino said in a statement. “We encourage all Spirit employees with concerns to come forward, safe in knowing they will be protected.”

The claims are the latest in a series of allegations flagging concerns about the manufacturing practices of Boeing or its suppliers. Earlier this month, a Boeing quality inspector alleged that the company mishandled and lost hundreds of faulty 737 Max parts.

The FAA has received more than 11 times as many Boeing whistleblower reports in the first five months of this year compared to all of 2023. The increase came after a fuselage panel blew off a Boeing jet mid-flight in January.

Boeing has also encouraged employees to submit safety concerns to an internal program called “Speak Up.”

Cuevas struggled to find work in the Everett area after his termination and has had to look for employment outside of Washington state, according to the OSHA complaint.