PARIS — On the eve of the Paris Air Show, Boeing Chairman and Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said Sunday the biennial aviation showcase comes this year at “a defining moment” for the jetmaker.
“We come to this air show focused on safety,” he added. “I’d say we come to this air show with a tone of humility and learning.”
The usual business of the show will take a back seat to an intense concentration on steadying a company rocked by the 737 MAX crisis.
At a press roundtable in a central Paris hotel, he defended Boeing’s handling of the criticism that’s engulfed the manufacturer since the second of two deadly air crashes three months ago and said that by reemphasizing its commitment to “safety, quality and integrity,” Boeing will come out of the crisis “a better and stronger company.”
Although there’s no timetable for the MAX to return to the air, Muilenburg expressed confidence that aviation safety authorities around the world are moving toward an agreement to clear the airplane.
“We see the regulators converging,” he said. “We will take the time necessary to make sure the airplane is safe.”
Boeing is mobilizing a team of technicians to help airlines get planes out of mothballs and primed for flight — “tail number by tail number,” he said — as soon as regulators give their approval for commercial service to resume.
For Boeing, the MAX crisis will dominate the 2019 Paris Air Show, which opens Monday at Le Bourget on the outskirts of the French capital.
“This air show is different,” Muilenburg told journalists. “We anticipate some widebody orders that you’ll be hearing about through the week. But that’s not our focus.”
“This really is a defining moment for Boeing,” Muilenburg said. “It’s given us pause. We’re very reflective. And we’re going to learn and we’re going to stay true to our values.”
Muilenburg defended Boeing’s refusal to clearly and publicly accept any blame for the accidents that killed a total of 346 people in Indonesia last October and in Ethiopia in March, saying the company is constrained by the protocols of the international investigation.
“That has been difficult,” he said.
Instead, he said, Boeing is proactively making changes to the flight control system implicated in both crashes — known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
Muilenburg repeated his now-standard formulation that a detailed company review of the MCAS design and certification has concluded that everything “was done to our original engineering standards, our certification standards.” Then he added: “That doesn’t mean it cannot be improved.”
“Rather than looking backward, we are looking forward,” he said. “What can we do to improve MCAS?”
Boeing’s software fix will change how the flight control system operates, so that it is activated by two sensors rather than just one, it moves the jet’s tail a more limited amount, and it activates only once, not multiple times.
“All of those improvements to the MCAS software, we are confident that they will result in a safe airplane,” Muilenburg said. “We believe that with the updates we are making, accidents like we saw will not happen again.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators worldwide are carefully reviewing not only the MCAS software fix but also Boeing’s design and certification process, he said.
Any changes recommended for the certification process will be applied to the forthcoming 777X jet that is expected to fly for the first time this summer. “We will certainly implement any improvements we find,” he said.
Asked about the Department of Justice criminal investigation into the MAX, Muilenburg said he couldn’t comment beyond that the company is cooperating with all U.S. and international reviews and investigations.
“I cannot provide any details,” said Muilenburg. “We are fully supporting any government inquiries.”