On the one-year anniversary of the first deadly Boeing 737 MAX crash, Lion Air flight 610, the plane maker’s CEO, Dennis Muilenberg, spent two days ostensibly answering lawmakers’ questions on Capitol Hill before members of U.S. Senate and House transportation committees. Muilenberg’s audience included family members devastated by the loss of their loved ones who were aboard Boeing’s two defective 737 MAX aircraft that killed them. I also attended one of those hearings on behalf of the firm’s clients whose family members perished in the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crash.
Despite difficult questions posed by lawmakers, Muilenberg consistently dodged the full extent of his and Boeing’s accountability. And, while he paid lip service to crash victims’ families, frequently expressing thoughts of sympathy, he also revealed glimpses of the greed and ‘win-at-all-costs’ internal corporate culture he has helped foster. One that has undoubtedly put its profits ahead of the flying public’s safety.
During a particularly heated exchange with a lawmaker, Muilenberg even admitted, “We don’t ‘sell’ safety; that’s not our business model.”
It was one of the very few statements of seeming candor by the CEO.
Muilenberg also admitted, reluctantly, that Boeing violated its own principles, safety requirements and was less than transparent throughout the development and certification process, including with federal regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Lawmakers expressed significant concern during their questioning over the degradation of the FAA’s oversight, and, rightly so. Last year, just weeks before the Lion Air crash, Congress passed the FAA’s Reauthorization Act. Several of the Act’s provisions shifted authority over aviation safety away from the agency, handing it over to industry giants such as Boeing. The Act reinforced the self-certification process that ultimately placed the two defective aircraft in the skies. The process was the result of significant lobbying dollars proudly expended by Boeing and other industry giants to reduce government oversight, particularly regarding aviation safety.
When lawmakers questioned Muilenberg about the obviously flawed regulatory framework, which was used to approve the latest iteration of the 737 and its now infamous MCAS, the CEO didn’t have “specific recommendations” for improving the framework. In fact, he defended the process and erroneously claimed it was a factor in improving aviation safety in the U.S. This couldn’t be further from the truth and the 737 MAX tragedies are unmistakable examples of what happens when appropriate oversight and accountability are ignored.
While no new information was revealed during the hearings, Muilenberg’s testimony, or lack thereof, was eye opening. It is incumbent on lawmakers to answer the wake up call these tragedies have given the U.S. aviation industry and those charged with overseeing consumer safety.
About Mike Andrews
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.