View Full Version : Doesn't Pay to be a ThistleBlower at Airboos

Dagger Dirk
1st Jul 2004, 12:41
Fired for Airbus safety warning

AN Airbus engineer was sacked after raising concerns about safety procedures at the company's North Wales wing factory.

Philip Coombes was dismissed for gross misconduct after passing his concerns to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Airbus, which employs more than 6,000 people at its Broughton wing factory, yesterday said the safety issues were investigated and it was found there was "no cause for concern".

In a letter to Mr Coombes, the company alleged he went to the CAA in "bad faith".

But Mr Coombes yesterday claimed he acted in the public interest and is taking the company to an employment tribunal alleging unfair dismissal.

The 56-year-old, from Llansannan, in Denbighshire, claimed a row broke out over a faulty bracket discovered on a wing just a month after he started as an audit engineer at the Flintshire-based factory.

Mr Coombes said he and a colleague were asked to carry out an investigation into the failure.

Mr Coombes, who previously worked in the military and private aircraft industry, claimed the company failed to act on his serious concerns.

and Lu, your private mail-bag is full. Clean it out or we can't send you these gems.

Lu Zuckerman
1st Jul 2004, 15:40
To: Dagger Dirk

I feel for this gentleman (Mr. Philip Coombes). He did what was required of him and he got sacked for doing it. It seems that the Airbus mentality and that of BAe have not changed since the A-310 design program.

I discovered a major design flaw on the A-310 wing and I brought it to the attention of my German superiors. They refused to take any design action because they did not want to absorb the redesign costs. They wanted to wait until Airbus discovered the fault and issued a change order that would cover the cost of the redesign. They told me to bring the problem to the attention of the integration contractor. I did and got the same rejection and for the same reasoning. Not wanting to pay for the redesign costs. I took it one step higher to BAe and they told me that they were sympathetic to my concerns but they could not help. This was the same firm that employed Mr. Coombes and they were the designers of the wing and also responsible for the certification of the wing.

The problem was the electrical bonding of the secondary flight controls (flaps and slats) which were not bonded to the wing structure. My firm and the integration contractor were waiting for Airbus to discover the problem and they never did. I believe that they did not follow the requirements of their own technical directive dealing with lightning protection and electrical bonding. If they did they would have discovered the lack of electrical bonding.

I felt that I had done everything required of me and that I would only take action if the A-310 were certified in the USA. About a year after leaving the program the A-310 was certified in the USA and I contacted the FAA. It took two letters to get their attention. The FAA contacted the DGCA and they told the FAA that the problem had been taken care of, which was not true.

I specifically asked the FAA to keep my name out of it. They not only revealed my name but they also circulated my two letters throughout Boeing. The VP and the Chief program manager were fired however the design was never changed.

Upon returning to the States I started to contact operators of the A-310 telling them of the bonding problem as well as another problem that could lead to flap runaway. I contacted several operators and one day I was contacted by a lawyer representing Airbus. They asked me to stop contacting the operators and I told them that I would if they would arrange a conference with Airbus designers. They agreed but the conference never took place.

I have not given up though thanks to PPRuNe.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

:E :E

1st Jul 2004, 15:40
What is everyones opinion on this - Was the engineer right? Was Airbus right?

What would you guys have done in his place if anything different?


West Coast
1st Jul 2004, 19:30
Had this been about Boeing there would be a 5 page thread by now.

Safety Guy
1st Jul 2004, 21:08
Actually, from what I know about Boeing's safety culture, this wouldn't even be an issue.

1st Jul 2004, 22:33
There is a similar problem brewing WRT fumes in the flight decks of 146 and 757 aircraft. BALPA have formed a Task Group to investigate the problems so far and the feed back is quite alarming.

Don't shoot the messenger, act on the info received and do something constructive to rectify the problem.

Boeing and Airbus are taking it very seriously.

2nd Jul 2004, 08:22
AVeight,the answer to that question is simple,I would have done exactly the same,I am primarily involved in the safety of aircraft and the issue is more important than any job,if designers or manufacturers do not see this then I will(and do)put the facts to the authorities and will keep following up till the matter is resolved.

2nd Jul 2004, 11:05
What possible reason could CAA have for not disclosing their findings to Combes' solicitor? Bet the company saw them.

2nd Jul 2004, 11:43
<I specifically asked the FAA to keep my name out of it. They not only revealed my name but they also circulated my two letters throughout Boeing. The VP and the Chief program manager were fired however the design was never changed>

Why did the FAA send the letters to Boeing?

Lu Zuckerman
2nd Jul 2004, 15:43
To: greciangod

Why did the FAA send the letters to Boeing?

The Large aircraft certification office is based in Seattle. Over the years friendships are developed and as a result the FAA released the letters to their Boeing friends who immediately circulated the letters throughout the various departments.

The reason I asked the FAA not to release my name was to maintain my ability to work on various Airbus related programs in Europe and the UK. Later in the States I worked on the cargo handling systems for the A-340 and the A-380. The German firm that I worked at on the A-310 program looks on me as being a saboteur and as a result all employees and contractors had to sign a secrecy form stating that they would not reveal any technical information to outside individuals or firms.

I found out about it when I was at Boeing making a technical presentation. When introduced to one of the participants in the presentation he said, “Oh, you’re the guy that sent the letters to the FAA about the Airbus problems”.

:E :E

2nd Jul 2004, 16:30
Safety Guy I am not quite sure how to take the comment ( was it tongue in cheek?) but there was a very good TV program here ( Florida) on the History Channel last night.
It was regarding the United B747 that the cargo door came off as it climbed out of Honolulu.
The NTSB report ( of course helped by Boeing !) gave the cause as an improperly closed door by the cargo handlers.

A New Zealand couple ( Non -Aviation) who's son was killed on the aircraft did their own investigation.
They as layman found a series of failures that Boeing had been advised of on several occasions.
I had to admire the tenacity of these people but of course if you are not in the industry you have nothing to loose!
It took them several years and they uncovered an AD that would have fixed the problem had 18 month implementation period !
During this time another incident occured which finally made the FAA issue 30 day compliance.
The NTSB initially refused to review the original report but finally after lots of pressure they did revise it.
It just makes you think how effective the NTSB and the FAA are when a private non aviation couple can out think them !
I gues the program details may be on the History Channel website:cool:

A Sayers
2nd Jul 2004, 18:22
I feel for Mr Coombes from first hand experience as a whistleblower. Legal action is very unpleasant and traumatic even when you are eventualy proved right. It lasts for YEARS. Some employers will stoop to anything. My ex employers evidence (Chief Exec and Dir Flite Ops) being "unbelievable, untruthful" and "not genuine" has now been formally established in an industrial tribunal. I will not comment further as there is other legal action underway against my ex employers. I hope Mr Coombes has the fortitude and courage to fight through the system and obtain redress appropriate for the circumstances. Even with total victory an individual is still worse off financialy as well as being drained emotionally. A good specialist solicitor is priceless as is counselling. If the world was just ... . Employers taking shortcuts with safety must never be tolerated. I am pleased that someone else put the interests of others ahead of their own career. I would like to think that everyone would put the lives of passengers and staff above their own interests. Sadly I know not everyone thinks this way and even very senior pilots will put 'bonus/profitability' ahead of safety and the truth.
Thank God for BALPA.
Andy S

2nd Jul 2004, 18:47
A few weeks ago I watched "Ripped from the sky" (Mayday! series) about UAL 811 on the National Geographic Channel. Reportedly the Kiwi couple in question managed to get hold of some vital unpublished case documents without permission, in an opportune moment after a NTSB hearing.

Lu Zuckerman
2nd Jul 2004, 19:02
To: All

Here is something to think about the next time you ride in a 767 or a 747. Boeing has very strict rules regarding dropped standards. Standards in this case are attachment devices such as nuts, bolts, rivets or any other device used to attach metal to metal or composite to metal. Each standard has a specific application and can not be replaced by another standard. Their rule is that if a standard is dropped on the floor it is discarded even if it is a $100.00 Titanium bolt. The standards are collected and eventually are taken to Boeings’ scrap yard where they are sold for $.10 a pound. This can be very expensive so each assembly station is limited to a fixed dollar loss each month. It was brought to the attention of production management that in some cases the allowable limit was exceeded by a factor of 10.

This could be very detrimental to the various managers’ positions so they did the following. They called in all employees that were on medical leave, that were in rehab for consuming alcohol or using drugs on company property and assembled them in a large room with several metal tables. The managers had gone to the scrap yard and retrieved many of the boxes that had officially been classified as scrap and dumped them on the metal tables.

The men with broken legs and arms along with the others in a confused state of mind were told to take each individual piece part and place it in the correct box with the other good standards. One bolt looked like another as did special and non special rivets as well as all the other parts that may or may not have ended up in the correct container and eventually finding their way onto an aircraft in production.

:E :E

5th Jul 2004, 21:55
Wow! if that's true, then expect a sh1t storm when the board of inquiry convenes to examimne the aftermath.

At the end of the day, it's Midnight...........