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Boeing doesn't have a choice but to fix safety issues, FAA chief warns

An audit found the company's culture placed more emphasis on mass production than safety standards, FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker told NBC News in an interview.
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Boeing doesn't have a choice but to improve its safety standards following a series of high-profile errors that have caused increased scrutiny of the aviation corporation's practices, Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Whitaker told NBC News in an interview Tuesday.

A recent FAA audit of Boeing found that the company culture has placed more of an emphasis on mass production than safety standards, Whitaker told "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt." The protocols were not what one would expect "if safety is the first priority," he said.

"Whenever someone comes into the FAA to brief on their company, the first thing I expect is to talk about safety, because we all have to start there," Whitaker said. "If it’s not safe, then the whole system is not working the way it should."

Read more on this story at and watch “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT.

The audit was sparked after a door plug on one of Boeing's 737-Max 9 jets blew out shortly after takeoff on an Alaska Airlines flight in January. A preliminary investigation found no bolts had been installed to secure the plug, prompting increased scrutiny of the already criticized Boeing 737 Max fleet.

Whitaker described the incident as a production failure, as opposed to a design issue, which had been identified years ago after two deadly 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019.

In recent weeks, travelers have seen headlines about Boeing planes that have had issues with "stuck" rudder pedals, an engine with flames shooting out of it midair and a tire falling off after takeoff.

Parts of the manufacturing process were found to have gaps that showed poor production and, in turn, quality assurance issues with the planes, Whitaker said. He assured the public that the aircraft themselves are safe when proper protocols are in place.

Asked whether he thinks Boeing is too big to fail, Whitaker responded, "I don't." They're too big "to not make a good airplane," he added.

"They have all the resources they need. There’s no reason they can’t make a good airplane, and that’s our focus right now," he said.

Last month, Boeing was given 90 days to develop a plan to improve its culture and practices to meet FAA standards. Boeing said following the audit that it continues "to implement immediate changes and develop a comprehensive action plan."

"We are squarely focused on taking significant, demonstrated action with transparency at every turn," the company's previous statement said.

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment after Whitaker's interview.

Asked whether Boeing will meet the FAA deadline, Whitaker responded, "I don’t think they have a choice."

"They need to make safe airplanes or they will be capped at a production level that’s not sustainable," he said. "So I’m confident that they’ll get there."