Boeing's Reckoning: CEO Calhoun Faces Lawmakers on Safety Culture

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun testified before U.S. lawmakers, acknowledging the planemaker's safety issues following a mid-air emergency involving an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9. Lawmakers scrutinized Boeing's safety culture, driven by whistleblower claims. Calhoun emphasized ongoing efforts to improve safety and accountability at Boeing.

Reuters | Updated: 18-06-2024 23:53 IST | Created: 18-06-2024 23:53 IST
Boeing's Reckoning: CEO Calhoun Faces Lawmakers on Safety Culture

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun took questions from U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon, and acknowledged the planemaker's shortcomings after a January mid-air emergency involving an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 raised widespread alarm. "I am here to answer the questions. I am here in the spirit of transparency and I am here to take responsibility," Calhoun told reporters earlier as he walked into the hearing room.

The senators are expected to question Calhoun over the planemaker's safety culture as well as claims from a new whistleblower employee at a hearing that kicked off at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. It is the first time Calhoun has faced lawmakers' questions and puts the spotlight on Boeing's souring safety reputation and the departing CEO who is expected to leave by year's end following a management shakeup.

"This is a culture that continues to prioritize profits, push limits, and disregard its workers," the panel's chair, Senator Richard Blumenthal, said of Boeing. "A culture that enables retaliation against those who do not submit to the bottom line. A culture that desperately needs to be repaired." Blumenthal said a new whistleblower has come forward after a hearing with a previous whistleblower in April. Blumenthal said on Tuesday that Sam Mohawk, a current Boeing quality assurance investigator at its 737 factory in Renton, Washington, recently told the panel he had witnessed systemic disregard for documentation and accountability of nonconforming parts. In a report released by the committee ahead of the hearing, Mohawk said his work handling nonconforming parts became significantly more "complex and demanding" following the resumption of MAX production in 2020 following two fatal crashes involving the model.

He alleged that the number of nonconformance reports soared by 300% compared with before the grounding and that the 737 program lost parts that were intentionally hidden from the Federal Aviation Administration during one inspection. The report said Mohawk filed a related claim in June with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Boeing said in a statement that the planemaker is reviewing the claims it heard about on Monday. "We continuously encourage employees to report all concerns as our priority is to ensure the safety of our airplanes and the flying public," it said.

Boeing also said it has increased the size of its quality team and "increased the number of inspections per airplane significantly since 2019." Calhoun will acknowledge shortcomings but seek to emphasize the company's efforts to improve.

"Much has been said about Boeing's culture. We've heard those concerns loud and clear. Our culture is far from perfect, but we are taking action and making progress," Calhoun will say in his written statement, which was seen by Reuters. Blumenthal called the hearing a "moment of reckoning" for Boeing.

"Boeing needs to stop thinking about the next earnings call and start thinking about the next generation," Blumenthal will say on Tuesday. Since the Jan. 5 mid-air blowout of a door plug on a 737 MAX 9 jet, scrutiny of the planemaker by regulators and airlines has intensified.

The National Transportation Safety Board said four key bolts were missing from the Alaska Airlines plane. The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the incident. Last week, Michael Whitaker, head of the FAA, said the agency had been "too hands off" in its oversight of Boeing before the Jan. 5 accident. Another senator has also launched a probe into Boeing. On May 30, Boeing delivered a quality improvement plan to the FAA after Whitaker gave the company 90 days to develop a comprehensive effort to address "systemic quality-control issues." He has barred the company from expanding production of the MAX. Last week, Boeing told the U.S. Justice Department it did not violate a deferred prosecution agreement after two fatal crashes of 737 MAX airplanes, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. The DPA had shielded the company from a criminal charge arising from crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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