Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and other company executives testified Tuesday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and returned Wednesday to face questioning by the House Committee on Transportation Infrastructure, the first time Boeing’s top brass have testified since two separate Boeing 737 Max jet crashes killed a total of 346 people.
Coincidentally, Tuesday was also the one-year anniversary of the Indonesian Lion Air crash into the Java Sea, which killed 189 people. Just five months later, on March 10, 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed in Ethiopia, killing 157. Both crashes were attributed to a malfunction with the new flight control system called the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system, or MCAS, which automatically pushes the nose of the plane down in the event the aircraft reaches dangerously low airspeed. However, the mechanism was triggered during high speeds in both crashes, and the pilots were unable to stop the planes from nosing down. The problem led to a global grounding of the Boeing 737 Max while the issue fell under investigation.
“On behalf of myself and the Boeing company, we are sorry, deeply and truly sorry,” Muilenburg said to the House committee during his opening statement. “As a husband and father myself, I’m heartbroken by your losses. I think about you and your loved ones every day, and I know our entire Boeing team does as well. I know that probably doesn’t offer much comfort and healing at this point, but I want you to know that we carry those memories with us every day. And every day that drives us to improve the safety of our airplanes and our industry.”
Muilenburg faced tough questions by members of Congress along with Boeing Vice President and Chief Engineer John Hamilton, as well as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board Robert Sumwalt, and Chairman of the Joint Authorities Technical Review Christopher Hart. Boeing has been accused of downplaying the risks associated with the new flight control system, and for pressuring Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) engineers to rush through safety assessments in order to meet certification dates.
During the hearings, Muilenburg acknowledged the company made mistakes. “We know we made mistakes and got some things wrong,” he said during his opening statements. “We own that, and we are fixing them.”
About 20 family members of those killed in the Ethiopian Airlines flight traveled from around the globe to attend the hearings and hold up enlarged photos of their loved ones. They also had the opportunity to speak with Muilenburg in a private meeting after his testimony Tuesday.
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the family of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Currently, Mike represents family members of victims in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. He attended the congressional hearing Wednesday on behalf of his clients.