Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg faced intense grilling by US lawmakers, while testifying before the US Senate Commerce Committee about the failure of the plane maker and US aviation safety regulators to identify and correct flaws in the design of the 737 MAX aircraft that led to two plane crashes that killed 346 people.
The world’s biggest aircraft manufacturer has been accused by US Senators of engaging in “a pattern of deliberate concealment” and telling ‘half-truths’ about putting profits before passenger and crew safety. For months, Boeing had largely failed to acknowledge blame, instead vowing to make a ‘safe plane safer’.
It was Muilenburg’s first public testimony since the tragic events, taking place on the first anniversary of the Lion Air flight 610 crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people. In March, after an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashed, killing 157 people, the 737 MAX was grounded worldwide. Muilenburg then pledged that such accidents would not happen again.
“We are sorry, truly and deeply sorry,” Muilenburg said to the family members of crash victims when opening his testimony. “As a husband and father, I am heartbroken by your losses.”
He has admitted the firm had made “mistakes.”
“We have learned from both accidents and identified changes that need to be made,” said the CEO, who was forced to step down as Boeing chairman earlier this month.
The company has faced increasing criticism for its design and its process of certifying the jet. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also been criticized for lax oversight of the plane maker.
“Both of these accidents were entirely avoidable,” Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker said. “We cannot fathom the pain experienced by the families of those 346 souls who were lost.”
According to Wicker, messages between Boeing staff during certification that raised issues in the MCAS test system betrayed “a disturbing level of casualness and flippancy.”
The automated control system in the 737 MAX 8, known as MCAS, has been identified as a factor in both accidents.
Ahead of the testimony, Boeing provided pilots’ messages suggesting test pilots knew about defects in the anti-stall system but failed to alert regulators.
Muilenburg claimed he was not fully briefed on the details of the messages until a “couple of weeks ago,” despite the company knowing of the exchange before the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal sharply accused Boeing of engaging in “a pattern of deliberate concealment.” He has accused Muilenberg and Boeing of supplying “flying coffins as a result of Boeing deciding to conceal MCAS from pilots.”
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz called the test pilot’s exchange “shocking,” and accused Boeing of withholding knowledge of the systems faults from regulators.
“How come your team didn’t come to you with their hair on fire, saying, ‘We’ve got a real problem here’? What does that say about Boeing? Why did you not act before 346 people died?” Cruz asked.