Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg defended on Monday in Chicago the US aircraft manufacturer’s safety record and refused to assume more than a partial responsibility for two fatal crashes on his best-selling aircraft, the 737 Max, saying that the company had almost completed an update that “would make the plane even safer”.
Answering journalists’ questions for the first time since accidents involving the Boeing 737 Max in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people and plunged Boeing into its deepest crisis in years, Muilenburg said Boeing had followed the same process design and certification that used for the construction of safe aircraft, and denied that the Max was rushed to the market.
“As in most accidents, a chain of events occurred,” he said, referring to the crash of Lion Air on 29 October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines on 10 March. “It’s not correct to attribute that to one element,” he added.
The press conference, held after Boeing’s annual meeting in Chicago, took place as new questions arose around the Max, grounded around the world since mid-March.
According to US media reports, federal regulators and congressional investigators are examining security allegations about the Max, made by a dozen alleged whistleblowers.
In his brief press conference, Muilenburg stated that the accidents resulted from a “chain of events” involving the erroneous activation of flight software called MCAS.
Boeing acknowledged that in both accidents, the MCAS was triggered by erroneous readings of a single sensor and pushed the aircraft nose down.
“We know it’s a link in both accidents that we can break. It’s a software update that we know how to do … It will make the plane even safer,” said Muilenburg.
In front of shareholders, Muilenburg said Boeing was about to complete an upgrade to Max’s flight software “which will ensure that such accidents never happen again.”
In addition to the software update, Boeing will provide the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with a pilot training plan on changes to the MCAS. The company advocates training that can be provided on tablets and, if airlines want, additional flying simulator sessions when pilots need to recycle periodically.
The training requirement in the simulators would further delay the return of the Max because of the relatively limited number of flight simulators.
At this annual meeting, shareholders elected the 13 nominees to the Board of Directors, including Nikki Haley, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former Governor of South Carolina.