Boeing ‘broke promises to the world’ CEO told at highly charged Senate hearing

NTSB plug door Alaska Airlines
NTSB

The CEO of Boeing, Dave Calhoun, appeared before senators at the Subcommittee on Investigations in Washington DC just hours after new whistleblower claims about the planemaker cutting corners had been released to the media.  

When Calhoun walked into the subcommittee room on June 18, 2024, relatives of some of the passengers that died in two Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019, were sat holding photos of their deceased loved ones.  

Opening proceedings Senator Richard Blumenthal launched into a blistering attack against Calhoun during his opening statement, telling the Boeing boss that the hearing is a “moment of reckoning”.  

“When you were named as Boeing’s Chief Executive, Mr. Calhoun, we were told that you were the right person to correct course, and you committed to, ‘strengthen Boeing’s safety culture and rebuild trust with our customers, regulators, suppliers, and the flying public,’” Blumenthal said. 

Dave Calhoun
Boeing

He continued: “And for a while, some started to believe that Boeing might have changed. But then this past January, the façade literally blew off the hollow shell that had been Boeing’s promises to the world. Once that chasm was exposed, we learned that there was virtually no bottom to the void that lay below.” 

The Senate hearing was called to gather evidence about “Boeing’s broken safety culture” which had been brought under the microscope after a door plug separated from an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 8 jet shortly after takeoff.  

Subsequent preliminary investigations by the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) found that there may have been production failures that led to the door plug not being installed properly after it was removed so repair work could be carried out inside the accident plane.  

In the following weeks and months, it became apparent that safety and quality were no longer what it once was at Boeing and the company was put into special measures by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that limited aircraft production and increased scrutiny at the production facilities.  

During Calhoun’s testimony in front of the subcommittee he was told that Boeing was “cutting corners”, “eliminating safety procedures” and “trying to squeeze every piece of profit you can”.  

‘You are strip-mining Boeing’

“You are strip-mining Boeing,” Senator Josh Hawley said.  

Calhoun was challenged on why he hadn’t resigned, to which he replied, “Senator, I am sticking this through”.  

Boeing confirmed on March 25, 2024, that Calhoun would retire at the end of the year and that he was remaining in his role to “stabilize and position the company for the future”. 

During his testimony Calhoun said that Boeing had taken “immediate action to ensure the specific circumstances that led to this accident would not happen again”.  

He told senators that following the door plug blowout Boeing had slowed production, encouraged employees to come forward with any issues and submitted a roadmap to the FAA on how it would fix its safety and quality-control issues. 

Spirit AeroSystems 737 MAX
NTSB

“Our culture is far from perfect, but we are taking action, and we are making progress,” Calhoun told senators.  

According to The Guardian, while giving evidence Calhoun also acknowledged during the hearing that some Boeing employees who raised concerns had faced retaliation.  

Whistleblowers have been central to the subcommittee’s evidence with Senator Blumenthal confirming “more than a dozen” have now come forward.  

Sam Mohawk, a Quality Assurance Inspector for Boeing in Renton, claimed in evidence presented by Senator Blumenthal on June 18, 2024, that aircraft parts labeled as “non-conforming” or inadequate sometimes ended up being used in newly built aircraft

Boeing reportedly only caught wind of the new allegations late on June 17, 2024, but said in a statement that it “continuously encourages employees to report all concerns as our priority is to ensure the safety of our airplanes and the flying public”. 

Boeing 737 MAX 9 plug door
NTSB

During the hearing Calhoun apologized face to face with relatives who lost loved ones on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 “for the grief that we have caused”.    

Boeing will now wait until July 7, 2024, to hear what steps the Justice Department will take against the company after it decided the Alaska Airlines incident did violate its 2021 deferred prosecution agreement with Boeing following the 737 MAX fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.     

Following the hearing Senator Blumenthal told the BBC: “I have a lot more questions that need to be answered and we’re going to be pursuing our investigation.” 

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