After yesterday’s grilling in the Senate, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and John Hamilton, chief engineer of the company’s commercial airplanes division, faced a second day of pointed questioning about the 737 MAX jet involved in two deadly crashes since last year. Senators grilled the executives yesterday; they faced a House committee today.
Watch it live, and follow along with us here for live coverage and insights during the testimony.
Update, 12:30 p.m.
The hearing is now adjourned.
Update, 11:40 a.m.
Rep. Jesus Garcia, D- Illinois, grilled – and mostly blasted – Muilenburg about the financial incentives of his job.
“The way I see it, your relentless focus on stock price and your company’s bottom line may have negatively affected employee performance, would you agree?” Garcia asked him.
“Congressman, I don’t agree with that. Our business model is about safe airplanes,” Muilenburg said.
Garcia wasn’t buying it. Citing internal company surveys and whistleblower reports, he said, “It’s pretty clear there has been a culture of greed and compromising safety at Boeing.”
“Mr. Muilenburg, you did everything to drive profits over safety. You skirted certification requirements or regulators at every corner, and your employees even admit to lying to the FAA. There are basically two ways that this plays out. You either truly didn’t realize that you had an defective plane, which demonstrates gross incompetence and or negligence, or you did know you had a defective plane but still tried to push it to market. In which case, in which case it’s just clear corruption.”
“Either way, Mr. Muilenburg, you’re still the captain of this ship. A culture of negligence, incompetence or corruption starts at the top and it starts with you. You padded your personal finances by putting profits over safety and now 346 people, including 8 Americans, are dead on your watch… I think it’s time that you submitted your resignation, don’t you?”
Muilenburg: “Congressman, I respectfully disagree with your premise on what drives our company.”
Garcia: “Ok, well whether or not you or your colleagues are incriminated in the ongoing criminal investigation, the facts remain: It was either gross negligence, incompetence or corruption. You’re at the top. I think it’s pretty clear to me, to the families of the victims and to the American public that you should resign and do it immediately.”
Update, 11:15 a.m.
In a punishing exchange, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Florida, demanded that Muilenburg resign.
“Are you expecting this aircraft to fly anytime in the near future,” she asked Muilenburg.
The CEO responded the intent is to get the MAX flying “before the end of the year.”
“I have lost all confidence, Mr. Muilenburg… I think many of the families have asked for your resignation. And I have thought for a long time, I don’t want to blame you, but at some point you have to take full responsibility of the negligence of these two flights. And I want to ask you: Are you going to be stepping down as CEO of Boeing?”
“Congresswoman, I — no,” he responded.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” she said, citing an article reporting that Boeing had increased its CEO pay by 27 percent to $23.4 million per year. “And this was last year.”
“Obviously, you don’t want to step down, but I think at some point, to build trust and confidence in your company – because I do agree with you, there are thousands of employees in this company that don’t deserve to be put through this.”
“But it is you as CEO that takes full responsibility for what happened. And I have not heard you doing that.”
“I am responsible, I take responsible for these two accidents that occurred on my watch,” Muilenburg said, again citing his upbringing as an Iowa farm boy. “… I don’t want to run away from challenges. My intent is to see this through.”
“Mr. Muilenburg, if you had an ounce of integrity, you would know that the right thing is to step down,” Mucarsel-Powell replied.
Update, 11:10 a.m.
Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-New Jersey, wondered whether Boeing’s push for streamlined procedures and less regulation in the FAA certification process, which gave Boeing and other manufacturers more self-regulatory authority, was actually good for the company’s bottom line.
“How much money did Boeing lose in the second quarter of 2019?” he asked Muilenburg.
“Congressman, we wrote off billions of dollars,” Muilenburg responded.
“Is this one of the lessons you’ve learned – that perhaps, this reflexive pattern of lobbying for faster and faster procedures for making it easier for you to get planes to market is not necessarily in the company’s best interest?” Malinowski asked.
“Congressman, I would disagree with the premise under the question,” the Boeing CEO said. “We never lobby for something that’s going to harm safety. If there are places we can gain efficiencies, the idea is always to enhance the safety of the regulatory system. That is our intent. We have no desire to reduce safety. Our business model is about safe airplanes, and that is the only sustainable approach.”
“I’m a Star Wars fan, so I know what Jedi-mind tricking means,” DeFazio told Muilenburg.
“.. But here’s one other observation I’d like to make. We brought up your $15 million bonus after the Lion Air tragedy. And Boeing has established a fund of $100 million, and I just did the math. And that means that each of the 436 families would each receive one percent of the compensation that you got last year. Yet you’re telling us that there have been consequences, you’re responsible…”
“You’re no longer an Iowa farm boy. You are the CEO of the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world. You’re earning a heck of a lot of money. And so far your consequence has been, oh you’re not chairman of the board anymore…. I haven’t seen convincingly that there have been consequences except one guy got fired and the chief leader of the 737 program retired in disgust because he wouldn’t want to put his family on the airplane.”
Update, 10:26 a.m.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, drilled down on recently revealed messages sent by Mark Forkner, Boeing’s former chief technical pilot on the MAX project, in which he referred to “Jedi mind-tricking regulators into accepting the training that I got accepted by FAA.”
“So I would ask you what Jedi mind-tricking is, and given these comments, would it be fair to state that your company misled foreign regulators to get your aircraft certified,” Titus asked.
“Congresswoman, I’m not quite sure what Mr. Forkner meant in those emails,” Muilenburg said. “We haven’t been able to talk to him, given that he’s departed the company and has legal representation. But any thought that we would try to trick customers or deceive customers is just not consistent with our values. And that would not be tolerated. I’m not sure what he meant, but that’s not our approach.”
Update, 10:22 a.m.
DeFazio appears to be bordering on calling for Muilenburg’s removal by Boeing’s board, saying Muilenburg is no longer an Iowa farm boy but the CEO of a major company who hasn’t faced real consequences.
Update, 10:08 a.m.
Committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, told Muilenburg: “I’m incredulous that you don’t know whether or not your company is attempting to avoid the U.S. courts for liability regarding Lion Air. I mean, seriously? You don’t know that as a fact? You know nothing about that? It seems to me like that would be a pretty damn big thing… You’re telling me that you don’t know your legal strategy in regards to Indonesia? You really aren’t?”
“Congressman, I’m not familiar with that strategy. I do have a legal team,” Muilenburg said. “My focus has been on safety.”
“Yeah,” DeFazio said. “Well, we’ll get back to that.”
Update, 9:59 a.m.
Muilenburg and Rep. John Garamendi of Northern California sharply disagreed on Boeing’s culture, with Garamendi asserting the company has put profits ahead of safety and Muilenburg insisting that Boeing’s business model is built on producing safe airplanes.
They also clashed over the quality of Boeing’s work as Garamendi listed problems that go beyond the 737 MAX, including the grounding of the 787 Dreamliner for a period. Muilenburg acknowledged that some “improvements” were needed.
Update, 9:55 a.m.
Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Michigan, questioned Muilenburg about the decisions to exclude MCAS information from pilots’ training.
“How do you train for something that you don’t know is there?” he asked.
Muilenburg explained that while MCAS wasn’t referenced in the training or operations manuals, there was training for pilots on the “failure mode” of a runaway stabilizer — which is what occurred when MCAS erroneously activated during the accident flights.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that we have to provide more documentation on MCAS. And that’s what we’re doing going forward,” Muilenburg said.
Before ceding his time, Mitchell wanted one more answer from Muilenburg: “Have you submitted or offered your letter of resignation to your board of directors?” he asked.
“Congressman, I have not,” Muilenburg responded. “I am responsible. These two accidents happened on my watch. I feel responsible to see this through. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up on a farm in Iowa. My dad taught me that you don’t run away from challenges. And this is a challenging situation.”
Update, 9:49 a.m.
Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, generally reiterated much of what Graves, the ranking Republican on the committee, had stressed: that pilot error appeared to be a major cause of the crashes.
“As unfortunate as these tragedies are — systems often fail, and we will continue to learn from them until they don’t fail — in the meantime, we need highly trained humans in the loop to make judgment calls when things go awry,” Babin said. “That means ensuring the operators of these complex system know how to triage problems in order to put airplanes safely on the ground in the case of the emergency.”
He noted that during the flight before the Lion Air crash, when an identical problem occurred, an off-duty pilot riding in the cockpit correctly identified the problem and guided the crew to disable the MCAS system to save the airplane.
“This is an indicator that a well-trained crew potentially could have averted this disaster,” Babin said. “All that to say, there are plenty of things that Boeing could have been done better.”
Update, 9:19 a.m.
The committee is taking a short break.
Update, 9:09 a.m.
In one of the most scathing exchanges of the hearing, Rep Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, angrily grilled the Boeing officials about the company’s decision to exclude details about the MCAS system from the flight crew operations and training manuals.
He drilled down specifically on then-chief technical pilot Mark Forkner’s request to the FAA to remove all references to MCAS because the system “only operates way outside the normal operating envelope” or routine flight conditions for a commercial airliner. But, Cohen pointed out, MCAS did activate during the normal operating envelope of both accident flights, due to the faulty sensor inputs.
“MCAS should have been transparent to the pilots,” Chief Engineer John Hamilton fumbled under Cohen’s questioning.
Cohen drilled down: “So, Captain Forkner repeated this representation to the FAA as late as January of 2017, after Boeing had changed MCAS to operate at lower speeds and just a few short months before the FAA finally certified the planes.”
Cohen then cited recently released instant messages in which Forkner, communicating with the FAA to delete MCAS from the materials, “either downplayed or at worse concealed” facts that MCAS could operate during the normal flight envelope.
“Again, I was not part of those conversations,” Hamilton said.
“You might not have been a part of it, but you’re an engineer, you’re an expert, you’re a vice president of Boeing,” Cohen shot back.
“I don’t know what was going through Captain Forkner’s mind, what he knew, what he didn’t know,” Hamilton finally responded, when pressed. “I don’t want to speculate on that.”
Cohen’s outrage appeared to only grow when he turned his attention toward Muilenburg.
“You said you’re accountable. What does accountability mean? Are you taking a cut in pay? Are you working for free from now on until you can cure this problem? These people’s relatives are not coming back — they’re gone. You’re salary is still on. Is anybody at Boeing taking a cut or working for free to try to rectify this problem, like the Japanese would?” Cohen asked.
“Congressman, it’s not about the money for me…” Muilenburg started.
Cohen cut him off. “So, you’re saying you’re not giving up any compensation at all. You’re continuing to work and make $30 million a year after this horrific two accidents that caused all these people’s relatives to go, to disappear, to die. You’re not taking a cut in pay at all?”
“Congressman, again, our board will make those determinations—” Muilenburg said.
“You’re not accountable, then,” Cohen interrupted.
Update, 9:04 a.m.
In response to Rep. John Katko, R-New York, who asked Muilenburg about his meetings late Monday with some of the families of the crash victims, the Boeing CEO appeared to get choked up.
“We wanted to listen,” he said with a stricken look. “Each of the families told us the stories about the lives that were lost. Those were heartbreaking. I’ll never forget that.”
Later in the conversations, Muilenburg said, he and the family members “talked about safety, talked about changes” and what Boeing and Muilenburg had learned from the crashes.
“We talked about our commitment to never letting this happen again, to preventing future accidents like this. That is one thing I wanted to convey to the families.
“You know, these stories, they’re always going to be with us,” he added. “I wish I could change that. All we can do is, we have to remember these people. It brought me back to remembering that lives literally depend on what we do at the Boeing company.”
Update, 8:54 a.m.
Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Illinois, vented about the FAA’s aircraft certification process that delegates much of its safety oversight authority to Boeing. Lipinski noted that 346 people died in planes that “should not have been certified to fly by the FAA.”
“Something went wrong in the certification of this plane,” he said.
“I’m not sure what accountability means if accountability means that, Mr. Muilenburg, you received at $15 million bonus after these two crashes,” he added.
The congressman also cited Boeing engineer Curtis Ewbank’s whistleblower complaint in which his proposal for synthetic airspeed for the MAX was rejected. The system could have prevented the two crashes.
“The bigger problem is, mistakes were made for financial reasons. And there’s a lot of things that point to that in this whole process.”
Update, 8:46 a.m.
In response to a question from DeFazio about who bears main responsibility for the “cascading events” that led to the disasters, Muilenburg declared he and his company are “accountable” for the two fatal crashes. “I am accountable,” Muilenburg adds.
Update, 8:43 a.m.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, asked Muilenburg about recent internal complaints in Boeing about its safety culture.
In one such whistleblower’s complaint, as reported in The Seattle Times, Boeing engineer Curtis Ewbank suggested that one proposal he offered to managers to modernize the MAX’s airspeed data was rejected. If it had been included, Ewbank’s complaint suggested, the system could have prevented the two MAX crashes. More generally, Ewbank’s complaint contended that the MAX’s safety was compromised by Boeing’s business considerations and management’s focus on schedule and cost.
“What are you doing to address some of those to ensure that the culture at Boeing is up to bar in all those facilities?” Davis asked.
Muilenburg responded: “We want our employees to speak up. When they have concerns issues, we want a culture where employees speak up.”
This comes in the face of criticism that Boeing has been hostile toward whistleblowers.
Update, 8:29 a.m.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D- Texas, grilled Muilenburg about the company’s decision remove all references to MCAS from the flight operations manual and training material.
Specifically, Johnson named Mark Forkner, Boeing’s former chief technical pilot during the MAX’s development, who she noted asked the FAA in March 2016 to remove MCAS from training and operations material.
Muilenburg said the decision to remove references to MCAS from pilot training manuals was the result of team discussions with the FAA and not solely a decision by Forkner.
As Boeing and the FAA advanced the 737 MAX toward production, they limited the scrutiny and testing of the MCAS design. Then they agreed not to inform pilots about MCAS in manuals, even though Boeing’s safety analysis expected pilots to be the primary backstop in the event the system went haywire. In the wake of the two crashes, despite an outcry from the public and from some pilot and airline industry officials, Boeing has defended the processes behind its MCAS design decisions and refused to accept blame.
Forkner’s actions are ones that federal investigators are looking at as part of a criminal probe into the crashes.
Forkner, who now works at Southwest Airlines, has refused to talk to Boeing since leaving and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to provide documents to the Justice Department in its criminal investigation. Unlike other Boeing employees who are being represented by attorneys hired by Boeing, Forkner has hired a high-powered criminal defense attorney in Texas to represent him.
In the hearing, Johnson asked Muilenburg whether Forkner was acting outside of his scope or whether he was “financially rewarded” by Boeing for pushing to remove MCAS from the operations and training materials.
Muilenburg responded that he was not, and that the request to remove MCAS from manuals was part of a larger discussion involving many people involved in the process of putting the operations manual together.
The idea behind that process is to “provide the information that the pilot needs to fly an airplane, rather than that information needed to diagnoses a failure,” Muilenburg noted. That practice is designed with safety in mind, he said.
But Johnson wasn’t done.
“Have you had discussions to reconsider the decision to remove (MCAS) from the material?” she asked.
Hamiliton, the chief engineer, said Boeing has reconsidered it.
“Since these accidents we understand that pilots want more information and we are going to incorporate that,” he said.
Update, 8:28 a.m.
Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington state, began his questioning by referring to Muilenberg’s statement that “we made mistakes, we got some things wrong.” Larsen asked Muilenburg to name three specific mistakes Boeing made.
Update, 8:11 a.m.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Missouri, the committee’s ranking member, placed much of the blame for the accidents on pilots.
“The most important safety component of any airplane is a pilot that can fly the damn plane,” Graves said.
After noting that the pilots in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash hadn’t “retarded the throttles” and allowed the plane to fly past maximum speeds, Graves set up Muilenburg with a question that essentially allowed the Boeing CEO to point toward pilot error.
“I guess we have to start building planes to the least common denominator,” Graves said, suggesting it may be time to change industry training standards. “… Do we need to revisit those assumptions?” he asked Muilenburg.
“We believe that we need to go look at those long-standing industry assumptions,” Muilenburg responded. “… These have things that produced safe airplane for decades, but we do think we need to go back and look at these things.”
Before yielding the remaining minute of his time, Graves said he thinks “we are dumbing down” pilot training. “We have to get back to basic piloting.”
Update, 7:56 a.m.
Committee Chairman DeFazio revealed a 2012 document showing the 737 MAX flight deck displayed an MCAS indicator light that didn’t make it onto the final version. John Hamilton, chief engineer of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, responded that the light would only signal when MCAS wasn’t working, which wasn’t a factor in the crashes.
Update, 7:54 a.m.
The committee’s top Republican, Sam Graves of Missouri, said he wasn’t absolving Boeing of mistakes but that the airlines in Indonesia and Ethiopia shared blame for the accidents involving their MAX planes.
Boeing hopes to win approval from the Federal Aviation Administration before year-end to get the MAX back in the air. Regulators in other parts of the world have indicated they may take longer to review Boeing’s changes to the plane.
After these hearings, Congress is likely to consider changes in how the Federal Aviation Administration certifies new planes.
Update, 7:41 a.m.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said Boeing showed a “lack of candor all through this” as it developed the plane and didn’t tell pilots about a new flight-control system until after a MAX crashed a year ago in Indonesia.
“We are deeply, deeply sorry,” Muilenberg told the families of the victims of two 737 MAX crashes, in his opening statements. “… Their memories will drive us every day to make our airplanes safer and make our industry safer. … We are learning, we still have more to learn, we have work to do to restore the public’s trust.”
Muilenburg is expected to say Boeing is making changes to prevent accidents like those in Indonesia and Ethiopia, according to prepared remarks.
Update, 7:22 a.m.
Good morning. We are underway, with an interesting nugget from Committee Chair Peter DeFazio in his opening remarks: The committee must wait in line behind the Department of Justice for additional documents requested from Boeing. The DOJ is conducting a criminal investigation into the development of the 737 MAX.
Update, 6:45 a.m.
Yesterday, a U.S. Senate committee grilled Boeing’s top executive about the troubled 737 MAX jet involved in two deadly crashes since last year.
Today, the House of Representatives gets its turn.
The House Transportation Committee is set to question Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and John Hamilton, chief engineer of the company’s commercial airplanes division, during a second and final day of congressional hearings delving into the company’s design, development and marketing of the MAX.
Both officials undoubtedly will face more pointed questioning about whether the aircraft’s safety was compromised by cost and scheduling considerations, and why Boeing failed to properly assess risks to its powerful new flight control system, known as MCAS, that it introduced for the MAX. The automated system has been implicated as a contributing factor in crashes of both Lion Air Flight 610, last October, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, in March. The crashes killed a combined 346 people.
The FAA grounded the MAX in March, after the second crash. Muilenburg, amid ongoing investigations and scrutiny of the company’s safety protocols and culture, recently held firm to projections that the MAX would win approval to return to service by the end of this year.
On Tuesday, Muilenburg faced a litany of hostile questioning from the Senate Transportation Committee, but mostly escaped being pinned down on key details related to specific failures that led to the fatal crashes.
His appearance at least clarified how the company accepts only limited accountability for what happened.
Muilenburg admitted that “we made mistakes, we got some things wrong.”
Yet, the only specific mistake he cited was that a warning light that should have indicated an error in an angle-of-attack sensor was not working due to a software glitch.
“We got the implementation wrong,” Muilenburg said of this error, which Boeing knew about more than a year before the October 2018 crash but assessed as not serious.
Muilenburg’s only discomfiting moments came when a few senators chose to vent.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., abandoned the pretense of asking questions altogether.
“My anger has only grown,” Blumenthal said as he accused Boeing of “a pattern of deliberate concealment.”
“Boeing came to my office shortly after the accidents and said they were the result of pilot errors,” he added. “Those pilots never had a chance.”
Calling the MAX aircraft “flying coffins,” he shouted that “you were lying to us” and accused Boeing of “putting profits over safety.”
Sen. Jon Tester, R-Mont., declared, “I would walk before I would get on a 737 MAX … I see corners being cut.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Dominic Gates contributed to this report, which also contains information from The Associated Press.