The U.S. government has subpoenaed records from a Boeing Co. plant in South Carolina as well as employees who work there, signaling that its investigation of the U.S. plane maker now extends beyond the 737 Max, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The inquiry, which was first reported by the Seattle Times, has expanded to include a look into manufacturing of the 787 Dreamliner at a new Boeing plant in North Charleston, the person said.
Whistleblowers cited in media reports have warned of tools and other debris left inside jets and a culture of intimidation at the nonunion plant, the only commercial final assembly line outside of Boeing’s Seattle industrial hub.
The widening investigation by federal prosecutors adds to the pressure on the manufacturer, which also faces civil and congressional inquiries into the design and certification of the 737 Max, the company’s bestselling jet, and software linked to two fatal crashes since last October.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating whether Boeing properly disclosed issues tied to the 737 Max jetliners, which were grounded in March after the second crash.
The U.S. Transportation Department and Justice Department began the criminal investigation into the 737 Max last year, shortly after the first of the fatal accidents. The crashes killed everyone aboard the two planes — a total of 346 people.
The two crashes have also spawned multiple investigations and reviews of how Boeing added a safety system known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System to the 737 Max family.
It was programmed to push down the nose of the 737 Max if it sensed pilots were close to an aerodynamic stall. But the system was tripped by a malfunctioning sensor on both fatal Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights, prompting it to repeatedly push down the planes’ nose until pilots lost control. While Boeing concluded that pilots should be able to overcome such a failure, the pilots on the accident flights became overwhelmed and failed to do so.
Boeing suffered another setback earlier this week when the FAA revealed it had uncovered a new safety risk, related to a microprocessor in the 737 Max’s flight control computer. The planemaker is working on a software patch for the latest issue while also completing a redesign of the system linked to the crashes.