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737 Max: Boeing versus the US Senate in Hearings was a Brutal Affair

CEO Muilenburg in the Hot Seat

The Boeing Max Senate hearings resulted in a grilling by lawmakers. Boeing admitted they made mistakes in developing the troubled Boeing 737 Max plane.

As many aviation professionals have been suspecting, Boeing admitted to botching the design of the Max-plane, with safety assessments of the Max falling short.

The 737 Max is 50 plus years of further development of the same Boeing 737 that was first designed in 1967. Boeing appears to have been stretching 1960’s technology and capabilities to its limits with the making of the Max. The fatal accidents of the Lion Air and Ethiopian 737 Max models grounded the entire 737 Max fleet worldwide.

Senate Commerce Committee Points of Contention

The Senate Committee collectively teamed up, grilling Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on two main issues:

1. Not informing 737 pilots about the changes that Boeing made to the Max model, and

2. Safety problems in the plane.

Muilenburg was remorseful

With regulators and Boeing under increased public scrutiny to reveal the truth, Muilenburg was questioned aggressively, in true government-fashion.

Since the 737 Max was a modified design of the 1960’s technology Boeing managed to get it to market faster than if it were were an all-new aircraft.

Muilenburg had previously stated in written testimony ahead of two congressional hearings about the design and marketing of the planes:

“We know we made mistakes and got some things wrong. We own that, and we are fixing them.” Muilenburg had previously stated in written testimony ahead of two congressional hearings about the design and marketing of the planes,

Tuesday and Wednesday Boeing Max Senate hearings recap

Tuesday Hearing

Yesterday’s hearing was the first of Muilenburg testifying in front of the Senate Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill since the crashes. The hearing also marked the one year anniversary of the first Max crash, the Lion Air Flight 610 which crashed shortly after takeoff from Jakarta.

Wednesday Hearing

In today’s hearing, Wednesday, October 30 House lawmakers zeroed in on why Boeing decided to only have one sensor on the outside of the plane, with no back-up, to alert pilots when the angle of the aircraft was off.

Lawmakers from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing asked why the plane’s safety system only gave pilots four seconds to react to take back control of the plane if a malfunction occurred.

Boeing had planned to fix the airplane

Boeing had planned to make fixes to the Max, but some of the lawmakers questioned why Boeing took so long to get going on that project.

Representative Peter DeFazio

The Oregon Democrat said,

“Why wasn’t that the way from day one? If you can do it now, why couldn’t you have done it on day one?”

Muilenburg’s response mirrored his explanation from his appearance in Tuesday’s meeting. He apologized to the family members of the 346 passengers who died in crashes. He admitted that mistakes were made. 

“We would do it differently if we knew what we know today,”

Muilenburg added.

Other issues brought up by committee members

Several committee-members want the Muilenburg to make more changes in the aftermath of the crash. They suggested the CEO giving up some of the $15 million in pay and bonus he received last year. That’s out of the $23 million in total compensation he received in 2018.

Steve Cohen, Democrat from Tennessee

“These people are gone. You’re on. Is anybody at Boeing working for free or taking a pay cut? You’re not taking a cut in pay at all? You’re not accountable, then.”

MCAS

Muilenburg was cut off by Some members of the Senate Commerce Committee when they felt he was failing to answer their questions about the MCAS flight-control system involved in both crashes.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut

“Those pilots never had a chance. Passengers never had a chance. They were in flying coffins as a result of Boeing deciding that it was going to conceal MCAS from the pilots.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill

“Boeing set those pilots up for failure by not telling them how the response to a nose-down command on the Max differed from previous 737s. Boeing has not told the whole truth to this committee and to the families and to the people looking at this… and these families are suffering because of it.”

A visibly angry Duckworth pointed to relatives of passengers who died as she said this.

Muilenburg on the role of the Max pilots in the crashes

Muilenburg said that Boeing never blamed the pilots for the crashes. He has repeatedly said the accidents were caused by a “chain of events,” not coming from a single factor.

On Tuesday the Senators were told that Boeing had always trained pilots to respond to a runaway trim situation per standardized pilot procedures.

Max Pilots In defense of Muilenburg

To Muilenburg’s defense, internally among some of us 737 airline pilots who have seen the preliminary accident report from the Ethiopian crash, it certainly appears that the pilots made mistakes.

The Ethiopian pilots initiated the correct procedure for a runaway stabilizer, but they mistakenly reactivated the stab cutoff switches when they were to remain off, escalating the adverse effect.

Boeing CEO admits mistakes in designing 737 Max planes. Video: CBS News.

Pilots at fault

In Wednesday’s hearings, lawmakers appeared to deflect some of the blame for the crashes away from Boeing and onto the Max pilots.

Inferior safety standards in some other countries were also brought up.

Sam Graves, a Republican from Missouri, kicked off his questioning by faulting the pilots of the Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed in March. 

Sam Graves, a Republican from Missouri

“The Ethiopian pilots were going too fast. It was like they were going down the road at 70 miles per hour, and they try to open the door. You can’t get that door open. That’s the analogy I have been using.”

Not only Muilenburg on the stand

Boeing’s commercial airplanes chief engineer, John Hamilton, spent about 80 minutes at the Senate witness table.

Then two safety officials who helped shape reports about the Boeing plane took the stand.

What do you think?

Did the Boeing 737 Max Senate hearings reveal any answers or solutions to the Max-problem? contact us here for possible inclusion of your comments in a potential future article.

Featured Image: Boeing.

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