Boeing CEO Regrets Door Panel Blowout, Says Company ‘Took Responsibility’ for Incidents

Jacob Burg
By Jacob Burg
June 18, 2024Congress

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun appeared before the U.S. Senate on June 18 to discuss the company’s safety culture after a January airplane incident that increased public and regulatory scrutiny on the aerospace company.

He began his opening remarks by turning to face and apologizing to the family members of the 2018 and 2019 737 Max crash victims who were seated in the audience behind him.

“I would like to apologize on behalf of all of our Boeing associates spread throughout the world, past and present, for your loss,” Mr. Calhoun said.

“I apologize for the grief that we have caused, and I want you to know we are totally committed in their memory to work and focus on safety for as long as long we’re employed by Boeing.”

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ hearing probed Boeing’s response to a Jan. 5 incident where an unused door panel blew off a recently manufactured 737 Max 9 right after takeoff on an Alaskan Airlines flight.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle grilled Mr. Calhoun on not just Boeing’s public and internal plans to increase safety, but what he has done in his position as the company’s lead since he took over for departing CEO Dennis Muilenberg in 2020.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the Justice Department have opened separate investigations into the company after the blowout incident.

“From the beginning, we took responsibility and cooperated transparently with the NTSB and the FAA in their respective investigations,” Mr. Calhoun told the committee.

“In our factories and in our supply chain, we took immediate action to ensure the specific circumstances that led to this accident could never happen again.”

The CEO also acknowledged that Boeing and its controversial Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), installed on the 737 Max—but initially hidden from airlines, pilots, and the FAA—were responsible for the 2018 and 2019 crashes that killed 346 people.

“MCAS and Boeing are responsible for those crashes,” he said to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Mr. Calhoun added that the crashes prompted Boeing to install a new safety management system “into every airplane that flies every second of every day.”

However, Mr. Blumenthal expressed frustration with Boeing’s promises to elevate whistleblower claims and prevent retaliation against them from Boeing managers and supervisors.

The senator cited concerns from deceased Boeing whistleblower John Barnett, who reported that his supervisor called him 19 times in one day and 21 times another day after the whistleblower went public with concerns over the company’s safety culture.

“When Barnett asked his supervisor about those calls, he was told, ‘I’m going to push you until you break,'” Mr. Blumenthal said.

“He broke,” Mr. Blumenthal said, referring to Mr. Barnett’s suicide after facing months of internal pressure from Boeing.

The CEO said company policy is to “cite and reward the people who bring issues forward, even if they have huge consequences on our company and our production levels.”

The senator then asked Mr. Calhoun if Boeing had fired any supervisors or managers “for retaliating against people who speak truth to power about defects or problems in production” within the company’s manufacturing.

“Senator, we have fired people and disciplined people,” the CEO confirmed.

He said he would “follow up” with the committee on who was fired or disciplined and why.

Safety Issues

In response to a question from Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mr. Calhoun said the door blowout incident on the Jan. 5 Alaskan Airlines flight was due to a “manufacturing defect,” not poor design.

“We cannot allow one unsafe airplane to leave our factory, and so we are totally focused on everything that may have contributed to that,” he said.

Howard McKenzie, Boeing’s executive vice president of engineering, also testified on June 18. He said there is a culture of “safety first” within the company’s engineering team.

“Whenever there’s an issue or a problem, invariably, the very first question we ask is, ‘What is the safety determination?'” Mr. McKenzie said.

He echoed Mr. Calhoun in stating that the door incident was an “issue in manufacturing” and that the “engineering design of the door is not implicated.”

However, the 2018 and 2019 crashes were due to engineering in the flight control software. Mr. Calhoun called the accidents “tragic” and said the “design was wrong.”

“Across the engineering department, we’re focused on preventing the design problem from ever happening again,” the CEO said.

“Alaska, very different. That was a manufacturing miss. That is what our quality action plan is all about.

“I believe, while there was a very discrete miss with respect to the documentation of [the] removal of that door plug—which caused this to escape our factory—while that happened, there was a discrete instance on one airplane,” Mr. Calhoun added.

90-Day Safety Plan

Mr. Blumenthal asked the CEO about Boeing’s 90-day safety plan submitted to the FAA on May 30, intended to outline the company’s “comprehensive” approach to increasing safety and quality assurance in its manufacturing.

He noted that the 90-day plan “sounds very much like” a plan that Boeing had previously submitted to the FAA in 2015.

Mr. Blumenthal had a staffer hold up a poster comparing provisions from both plans to show their similarity.

“It’s making more of the same promises. It’s recycling the same old ideas without having taken action. You disagree?” he asked the CEO.

Mr. Calhoun reiterated that he started leading Boeing in 2020 and can only speak to the company’s current “practices that would address directly the development and design of every next airplane, so that we would never design an MCAS again.”

He added that this includes a “very comprehensive look at human factors, pilots, all those interactions.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Miss.) was not satisfied with the CEO’s testimony and plans to improve the company.

“I’ve listened to your testimony, and you know, the gist of it seems to be that if you could just get your employees to comply, you know, follow the rules, follow your management techniques … things would be better.

“I don’t think the problems with the employees, actually, I think the problem’s with you,” Mr. Hawley said.

“The problem’s at the top. Your engineers, they’re probably the best in the world. Your machinists, they’re outstanding. You’re the problem.

“And I just hope to God that you don’t destroy this company before it can be saved,” he added, not giving the CEO enough time to respond.

From The Epoch Times