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.

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.”

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.

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.