Udall Presses Boeing Executives On Lax Safety Culture Resulting In Two Fatal Crashes

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall
WASHINGTON, D.C. Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, questioned Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and Vice President John Hamilton about the company’s “cozy” relationship with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulators and commitments to reform in the aftermath of two fatal crashes involving the 737 MAX 8 jet.
Udall pressed the Boeing leaders to take responsibility for their company’s culture and business processes in order to prevent future accidents.
Udall has been an advocate of strong oversight and accountability in aviation safety, calling for an aviation safety hearing in 2018 after the engine failure of a Southwest Airlines flight that caused the death of Jennifer Riordan, a beloved member of the Albuquerque community, and pushing for subsequent FAA action to ensure safer airplane engines.
Video of Udall’s questioning is available HERE.
Udall grounded his questioning in the human impact felt by families of those killed in the 737 MAX 8 crashes. “I first want to say to the families who stood up that I’m very moved by you being here, and your losses are very heartfelt across the committee here,” Udall said. “The thing that really bothers me is knowing that this was preventable. It makes it even more outrageous that we haven’t made the kind of dramatic changes that I want to talk to the CEO here about.”
Udall moved forward to ask Boeing executives to demonstrate accountability. “Mr. Muilenburg, you showed some emotion earlier when the families who lost loved ones stood up,” Udall said. “What should come from that emotion is some action to do something to really make a difference.”
Highlights from Udall’s questioning of Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg include:
Calling for concrete commitments to reform safety legislation:
“For this committee to coalesce around the solution that’s really going to move us forward would require you to step forward and specifically say what you support, and I haven’t seen you do that in all of the questioning,” Udall said. “You’ve been asked over and over again—what would you support?”
Raising concerns about lack of FAA oversight leading to safety violations:
“It’s absolutely clear that your … relationship with the FAA is much too cozy,” Udall said. “What is it that you’re going to commit to specifically in terms of reform? And so that’s why you’re up here and that’s what we want to see you do is to weigh in with us and say ‘this is what would make a difference, this is what would make it safer, this is what we can do so we don’t lose passengers like this in the future—or the crew.’”
Muilenburg replied that Boeing “[has] a respectful relationship with the FAA, but we certainly have had our disagreements.”
Udall responded by noting that, “It’s a relationship that didn’t work for the consumers, and for your employees that went down in those flights.”
Holding executives accountable for prior Boeing statements casting the blame on pilots:
“You and others in your company blamed the deceased pilots, and the culture of the countries where the crashes occurred, for the accidents,” Udall said. “But from what we’ve seen in the last year since the crash is that Boeing’s own culture is more blameworthy for installing a faulty system that resulted in too many deaths and could have caused more. This culture starts at the top.”
Questioning Boeing’s internal safety review process:
“If Boeing could not guarantee that pilots were prepared to fly these jets, your company should not have sold them,” Udall said. “Did anyone in Boeing question, hesitate, or raise any issues prior to selling the 737 MAX 8 with this software to Lion Air or Ethiopian Air?”
Muilenburg replied that Boeing is “responsible for our airplanes. We are responsible and we own that. Regardless of cause, any accident is unacceptable.”
Udall responded by stating that Muilenburg’s change in tone “is welcome, but Boeing’s culture came out early on.”
Video of Udall’s questioning is available HERE.