Exactly one year after Lion Air flight 610 crash, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg stood before the U.S. Senate Committee to address aviation safety, MAX development and certification process and Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) “cozy relationship” topics. Among them, Muilenburg spoke about the “mistakes made” with the 737 MAX aircraft and revealed for how long he knew about messages exchange between two Boeing employees from 2016, that describe MCAS malfunction similar to the one detected in both MAX 8 crashes.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, accompanied by John Hamilton, Vice President and Chief Engineer, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, have testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in a hearing on aviation safety and the future of the Boeing 737 MAX on October 29, 2019.

MCAS problem described in messages from 2016

During the hearing, Muilenburg commented on the exchange of messages from 2016 between then-Boeing chief technical pilot for the 737 MAX and another company’s employee. In 2016, the 737 MAX was still in the development and certification stage. In the messages, one Boeing employee states that he “basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)” after describing Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) malfunction. The malfunction described in the messages share a striking similarity to what is believed happened onboard Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Air flight 302.

During the October 29 hearing, Muilenburg told the Committee he became “aware of the existence of this kind of document” as part of the investigation “early in the year”, but only became familiar with the details in the exchange “recently”, a couple of weeks ago. Muilenburg have also indirectly hinted that the exchange might reference problems discovered during 737 MAX simulator testing, as opposed to an actual aircraft.

Too cozy with the FAA

Muilenburg denied that the relationship between the Boeing company and the regulator that oversees certification of its products, the FAA, is too “cozy”, as suggested by several senators.

“We have a great deal of respect for the FAA,” Muilenburg said, but disagreed with their  relationship characterization as “cozy”, stating that he believes in strong oversight in the aerospace industry. Hamilton, in addition, has added that Boeing has a “respectful” relationship with the authority, also describing it as “professional” rather than “cozy”.

Mistakes made

Ahead of the Committee hearing, Boeing has released Muilenburg’s opening statement, in which he admits that: “We know we made mistakes and got some things wrong. We own that, and we are fixing them”.

Later, when questioned by the Committee, the Boeing CEO provided one example of the “mistakes”. “We got the implementation wrong,” Muilenburg said about the Angle of Attack (AoA) sensors on MAX.

In early stages of Lion Air flight 610 crash, it was discovered that there was a disagreement of approximately 20° between the left and right AoA sensors on the plane. Furthermore, it is also known that Boeing previously sold AoA indicator and disagree light as optional features. The crashed Lion Air aircraft did not have these features installed.

Now, Boeing will make the disagree light mandatory, while the AoA indicator, which takes up space on the deck therefore is not wanted by some airlines according to Muilenburg, is to remain an option.

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Ahead of Boeing's CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, testimony before United States Congress, the company has released Muilenburg's opening statement.
 

Lion Air flight 610 crashed into the Java sea on October 29, 2019. Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed in Ethiopia on March 10, 2019.

The main picture: Demonstration against Boeing in April 2019.