What Went On Inside Boeing Chief’s Congressional Hearing?

Boeing Chief Executive Officer, Dennis Muilenburg, faced tough questioning yesterday at a congressional hearing in Washington. Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee accused Boeing of half-truths, cost-cutting, and ignoring earlier safety concerns about the Boeing 737 MAX.

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This week’s hearings are examining aviation safety, in particular, the issues surrounding the 737 MAX. Photo: Boeing.

Reuter’s David Shepardson reports that Mr Muilenburg acknowledged Boeing’s failures regarding the 737 MAX. He quotes Mr Muilenburg saying before the committee;

“We’ve made mistakes and we got some things wrong. We’re improving and we’re learning.”

A conciliatory Mr Muilenburg fronted the Washington hearing 

The high profile congressional hearing is running this week and examining aviation safety with a particular emphasis on the Boeing 737 MAX. The 737 MAX has been grounded since March 2019 following fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia in which 346 people died.

Mr Muilleburg adopted a humble and conciliatory tone, apologizing a number of times to the family members of crash victims present at the hearing. It’s not the first time Mr Muilenburg has apologized. Back in May 2019 he said to CBS News;

“I do personally apologize to the families, as I’ve mentioned earlier we feel terrible about these accidents, and we apologize for what happened, we are sorry for the loss of lives in both accidents.”

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Boeing’s Chief Executive Officer, Dennis Muilenburg. Photo: Boeing.

A group of deeply displeased Senators

Despite these apologies, committee members loudly voiced their concerns about the way Boeing brought the 737 MAX to market and how it has handled things since the crashes and subsequent grounding.

Senator Tammy Duckworth asked why Boeing hadn’t told pilots about the lack of safeguards. She said to Mr Muilenburg;

 “You set those pilots up for failure.”

She then accused Mr Muilenburg of not telling the whole truth.

“You have told me half-truths over and over again. You have not told us the whole truth and these families are suffering because of it.”

Senator Jon Tester said;

“I would walk before I would get on a 737 MAX. I would walk. There is no way … You shouldn’t be cutting corners and I see corners being cut.”

Senator Tester saved some of his wrath for the FAA for allowing Boeing to cut perceived corners and save money and time when it came to first certifying and testing the 737 MAX.

It wouldn’t have happened if FAA would have been doing their job and it also wouldn’t have happened if you had known what the hell was going on.”

Why didn’t Boeing act on early safety concerns?

Mr Muilenburg also came under fire for the way he handled (or didn’t handle) safety concerns about the 737 MAX raised by a test pilot. Mr Muilenburg admitted yesterday he was aware of the substance of concerns raised by the test pilot prior to the second 737 MAX crash. The test pilot’s concerns have only recently been passed to the FAA.

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Mr Muilenburg was sharply criticized yesterday for not passing on safety concerns raised about the MAX as far back as 2016. Photo: Boeing.

The hearing heard Senators raising their concerns that Boeing hadn’t passed these safety concerns along to the FAA earlier. Said Senator Ted Cruz;

“How did your team not put in front of you, run in with their hair on fire saying ‘we have a real problem here’?

“How the hell did nobody bring this to your attention? … What does this say about the culture at Boeing?”

Mr Muilenberg’s appearance before the hearing yesterday emphasizes a willingness for the manufacturer to accept responsibility for what has happened with the 737 MAX. It is a shift in position from earlier this year.

But given the financial and human cost of the flawed 737 MAX, for some people, nothing Mr Muilenburg can say or do will make things right.

Mr Muilenburg is reappearing before the Transportation Committee on Wednesday, October 30, 2019.

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Frank

No wonder why Forkner, chief technical pilot – chose to hide behind the 5th;
‘We’re playing Jedi Mind tricks on the FAA…” WTF??
Muilenberg out and out lied, when he said Boeing never blamed the pilots:
“In recent weeks, Boeing has tried to shift blame for both crashes from its software systems. In April, Dennis Muilenburg, the company’s chief executive, claimed the 737 Max was correctly designed and suggested the pilots did not “completely” follow the procedures that Boeing had outlined.”

From the Guardian, dated May 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/may/23/boeing-737-max-crashes-american-airlines-pilots-union-mcas

American Airlines union: blaming pilots for Boeing 737 Max crashes ‘inexcusable’

Why Soitanly

It is crucial to aviation safety that Boeing not be permitted to “fix” the 737 MAX with software. The plane was made unstable due to new, larger and heavier engines which were stupidly located upward and further forward for ground clearance. This causes the 737 MAX to often pitch up at max thrust on take-off. Basic aerodynamic stability was compromised. MCAS is compounding the error: for an airplane that lacks essential stability, software only “papers over” the underlying problem, and Boeing management knows this. But they decided to allow a flawed fifty year old design decision to continue rather than… Read more »

Blair

Very well said. If an aircraft lacks basic aerodynamics how then can it be licensed to fly, let alone roll off an assembly line? Boeing has a big black eye,
Muilenberg and Company put it there. He has to GO.

Norm

It is very disappointing to see the, until a week ago, Ex-Chairman and his Engineering Head, of one of the largest Companies in the World, Lying and Covering-up their created Disastrous and Chaotic B737 MAX. None of these Clowns trying to portray their Safety input in this aircraft when it was build, and when it is cleared to fly again, with some Band Aid. The big question which is not being perused, why did Boeing and/or the FAA not ground the B737 MAX aircrafts delivered following the Lion Air Crash, and why after the Ethiopian Airlines Crash, it had to… Read more »

Blair

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has blood on his hands. He should be criminally prosecuted. Having read countless articles and reports on the development of this highly flawed aircraft one must conclude that upper management at Boeing was chiefly focused on market share and money, on profits and share price. In my opinion, the United States Justice Department should prosecute these individuals.

Tom

These Senators and Congressmen should look in the mirror! Their refusing to properly fund the FAA over the years, (both parties), just forced the FAA to outsource safety checks and certification process. Same with the much needed “Next Gen.’ ATC upgrades!

WordsMatter

Boeing should have been requested, even required, by the hearing to state and list publicly in writing 1.) their design flaws on the MAX that need to be corrected now, 2.) the errors that exist in the way certification was achieved and 3.) the errors in their actions and statements in dealing with the situations in the aftermath of each crash. This is a neccessary starting point to ensure that all issues are identified and acknowledged before there can even be any future talk of things having been corrected.