Boeing boss Dennis Muilenburg is set to be grilled tomorrow when he fronts the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. It will be the first time Mr Muilenburg has fronted a congressional hearing as Boeing’s Chief Executive Officer. He is expected to get a fairly rough ride when questioned over the design, certification and marketing of the 737 MAX.
But Boeing is getting on the front foot and owning its mistakes. In a media statement provided to Simple Flying, Mr Muilenburg said Boeing had made mistakes and got things wrong. He expressed his sympathies to the friends and families of those lost in the two 737 MAX accidents.
Boeing is confident about MCAS
Mr Muilenburg will say this week in Washington that Boeing has made significant improvements to the 737 MAX’s flight control software. He will say the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) will now provide additional layers of protection, including,
- (i) comparing information from both angle of attack sensors prior to responding and only responding if both sensors agree
- (ii) MCAS will only activate once, and
- (iii) the pilot will be able to counteract any MCAS input using the control column
In his statement, Mr Muilenburg said;
“We have brought the very best of Boeing to this effort. We’ve dedicated all resources necessary to ensure that the improvements to the 737 MAX are comprehensive and thoroughly tested. When the 737 MAX returns to service, it will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.”
Boeing has invested more than 100,000 engineering and test hours fixing the issues with MCAS. They’ve conducted 814 test flights using the new software and numerous simulator sessions involving 99 Boeing customers and 41 regulators from around the world. Boeing asserts that what happened with Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines will never happen again.
More than MCAS is changing at Boeing
It’s not just MCAS that Boeing is overhauling. Mr Muilenburg will explain to the congressional committee about changes to culture, policies and procedures at Boeing. He plans to,
- (i) set up an Aerospace Safety Committee from Boeing’s board of directors
- (ii) set up an organization that will monitor “all aspects of product safety” and reporting processes
- (iii) reinforce Boeing’s engineering organization and simplify its chain of command
- (iv) expand research and development in new safety technologies, and
- (v) attempt to improve safety across the entire aviation sector.
These are admirable objectives. But they do smack a bit of board-level motherhood statements. The challenges for Boeing will be to translate these statements to actions and behaviors amongst its 150,000 employees.
A humble tone in Washington
Boeing is adopting an approach to tomorrow’s hearing that could best be described as humble. A lot of people will be watching. Disregarding the financial impact of the grounding, 346 people were killed in the two 737 MAX crashes. “How the hell did this happen?” questioned Peter DeFazio, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday.
There is intense interest in the certification and marketing of the 737 MAX, with questions expected to be raised about the relationship and streamlined processes between Boeing and various regulators
Senator Roger Wicker, Chair of the Senate’s Commerce Committee said last week;
“That plane won’t fly unless 99.9% of the American public and American policymakers are convinced that it is absolutely safe.”
Boeing might be right, the 737 MAX with its fixed MCAS might be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly. Convincing everyone of that is a whole new mountain for them to climb.
Simple Flying approached Boeing for further comment. They referred us to their media statement issued on 28 October 2019.