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UPDATE 1-Panel finds safety 'disconnect' between Boeing management, employees

(Adds details of panel report, company background, Boeing statement, paragraphs 4-13)

By David Shepardson and Valerie Insinna

WASHINGTON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - An expert panel reviewing Boeing's safety management processes has found a "disconnect" between the planemaker's senior management and employees on safety culture and raised other concerns.

The panel's report released on Monday was directed by U.S. Congress after two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people. It criticized Boeing's safety culture on a number of fronts and found "a lack of awareness of safety-related metrics at all levels of the organization." It also cited an "inadequate and confusing implementation of the components of a positive safety culture."

The expert panel was appointed by the Federal Aviation Administration in early 2023.

The panel cited "gaps in Boeing's safety journey" and referenced serious quality issues that have been become public since 2023.

Last month, a door panel of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 jet blew off mid-flight, which prompted the FAA to temporarily ground the U.S. MAX 9 fleet and raised serious questions about Boeing's quality control. The agency has barred Boeing from increasing its current MAX production rate.

The recent issues "amplified the expert panel's concerns that the safety-related messages or behaviors are not being implemented across the entire Boeing population," the report said.

The report said that within six months Boeing should review the recommendations "and develop an action plan."

Boeing said on Monday it appreciated the panel's work. "We’ve taken important steps to foster a safety culture that empowers and encourages all employees to share their voice. But there is more work to do," the company said. "We will carefully review the panel’s assessment and learn from their findings, as we continue our comprehensive efforts to improve our safety and quality programs."

The company's safety culture has faced criticism for years from lawmakers and others. "The American flying public and Boeing line workers deserve a culture of leadership at Boeing that puts safety ahead of profits," Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell said last month.

The FAA, which is conducting a safety audit of Boeing after the Jan. 5 MAX 9 incident, said it will "immediately begin a thorough review of the report and determine next steps regarding the recommendations as appropriate. We will continue to hold Boeing to the highest standard of safety and will work to ensure the company comprehensively addresses these recommendations."

The FAA has also faced prior criticism for not doing more to insulate its employees from pressure from Boeing.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun is set to meet with FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker on Tuesday to discuss his recent visit to Boeing's 737 factory in Washington, sources told Reuters.

Boeing shares were up 0.3% at $201.52 on Monday afternoon.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Valerie Insinna in Washington Editing by Franklin Paul and Matthew Lewis)

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