The executive in charge of Boeing’s troubled 787 Dreamliner factory in North Charleston, S.C., is leaving the company, according to an internal company memo reviewed by The New York Times on Wednesday.
The departure of the executive, David Carbon, the vice president of 787 operations at Boeing South Carolina since 2016, comes about a month after The Times published an article detailing shoddy production practices and weak oversight at the factory.
No full-time successor to Carbon, who plans to return to his native Australia, was announced. The Boeing memo, written by Brad Zaback, the head of the company’s 787 program, said Carbon was leaving “to care for his family.”
The Times’ article detailed a decade of problems at the South Carolina plant that continue to plague the factory. Debris was often left on finished jets, planes were badly damaged during the manufacturing process and employees who tried to register complaints were frequently sidelined.
Current and former employees described finding a stray bolt left in an engine, and a ladder and strings of lights left in the tails of planes that went up for test flights. Sharp metal shavings were regularly found under floor panels, near the wiring that controls the planes.
In the memo, Zaback said Boeing’s South Carolina “787 manufacturing operations are the healthiest they’ve ever been.”
The upheaval at the North Charleston plant coincides with broader scrutiny of Boeing’s culture after two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max jet. The Max remains grounded, and the company is working with regulators to return it to service. Lawmakers and regulators are examining whether a rush to produce and certify the Max contributed to the flawed design of an anti-stall system that is believed to have played a role in both crashes.
As head of the South Carolina plant, Carbon was responsible for a culture that current and former employees said was overly focused on producing aircraft quickly, and was insufficiently concerned with safety.
An inspector for American Airlines who inspected 787s produced at the factory was so frustrated with the sloppy conditions there that he would collect debris left on planes in zip-lock bags and present them to Carbon.
In recent months, Boeing has increased the production rate for 787s to 14 a month from 12. During the same period, it has reduced the number of quality inspectors at the plant.
“David has worked tirelessly the past three years to improve our production system and help us achieve the highest widebody production rate in history,” Zaback said of Carbon.
In response to The Times’ article, the Federal Aviation Administration circulated an internal memo from the agency’s head of aircraft certification that confirmed many of the newspaper’s findings. The memo revealed that since September, the regulator had investigated and confirmed three safety complaints made by factory employees. The FAA is also looking into a claim that as recently as late March, a worker at the plant was pressured to sign off on work related to a jet’s airworthiness.
The aviation administration has subjected the North Charleston plant to exceptional scrutiny in the past, forcing Boeing employees to take extra steps to demonstrate that they were meeting government standards. From June 2013 to October 2014, the FAA reined in the ability of Boeing employees in North Charleston to act as its representatives when certifying aircraft, a common industry practice.
The FAA memo said that the agency was continuing to take unusual steps to ensure the quality of work at the plant, including visiting “every other week” to see that tools were not being lost, a recurring problem. The agency is also requiring that one of its representatives sign off on the installation of every floor panel in 787s built in North Charleston, an exceptional level of oversight.
Darrel Larson, a director of operations at the North Charleston factory, will be in charge of the plant until Carbon’s full-time successor is named, Boeing said.