Boeing CEO faces safety grilling as crash victims’ families look on

Click to play video: 'Boeing CEO apologizes to families who lost loved ones in 737 Max crashes'
Boeing CEO apologizes to families who lost loved ones in 737 Max crashes
WATCH: Boeing CEO apologizes to families who lost loved ones in 737 Max crashes – Jun 18, 2024

The chief executive of Boeing was grilled by U.S. senators on Tuesday about the company’s mounting safety and manufacturing shortfalls while relatives of people who died in two crashes of Boeing 737 Max jetliners looked on.

David Calhoun turned and apologized directly to the families holding pictures of their loved ones before facing tough questions about Boeing’s stated commitment to safety — despite whistleblower complaints and mid-flight emergencies in the years since those 2018 and 2019 crashes, which killed 346 people, that have raised intense questions suggesting otherwise.

“I apologize for the grief that we have caused,” he told the families.

Click to play video: '‘How can you sleep at night?’: Families, U.S. lawmakers confront Boeing CEO'
‘How can you sleep at night?’: Families, U.S. lawmakers confront Boeing CEO

He told the committee in prepared remarks that Boeing’s safety culture “is far from perfect, but we are taking action and making progress.” He reiterated that promise and positive outlook multiple times under questioning.

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Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that held Tuesday’s hearing, called Calhoun’s appearance “a reckoning.”

He also pointed to similar promises the company made in the immediate aftermath of the 737 Max 8 crashes, which he said evidence has shown were not kept.

“In fact, there is near overwhelming evidence, in my view as a former prosecutor, that prosecution should be pursued,” he said during his opening remarks.

Calhoun’s appearance before Congress was the first by a high-ranking Boeing official since a panel blew out of a 737 Max during an Alaska Airlines flight in January. No one was seriously injured in the incident, but it raised fresh concerns about the company’s best-selling commercial aircraft. The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are conducting separate investigations.

Since then, multiple whistleblowers have come forward to the committee alleging oversight gaps and manufacturing shortcuts that prioritize speed and profits over safety.

Click to play video: 'All 787 Dreamliners should be grounded, Boeing whistleblower warns'
All 787 Dreamliners should be grounded, Boeing whistleblower warns

Hours before Calhoun was set to appear, the Senate panel released a 204-page report with new allegations from a whistleblower who fears that “nonconforming” parts — ones that could be defective or aren’t properly documented — are going into 737 Max jets.

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The report concluded Boeing “continues to prioritize profits, push limits, and disregard its workers,” including punishing those who try to come forward and raise concerns.

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Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri accused Calhoun of “strip-mining” an iconic American company “for profit shareholder value — and you’re being rewarded for it.”

“Why haven’t you resigned?” the senator asked.

“I’m proud of having taken the job, I’m proud of our safety record, and I’m proud of every action we have taken,” Calhoun replied.

“Every action you have taken,” Hawley repeated back. “Wow.”

Calhoun acknowledged retaliatory actions have been taken against whistleblowers within the company, but also said those who have done so have faced discipline. In both cases, he would not provide specific numbers or details.

“I know it happens,” he said.

Two whistleblowers have died in recent months — one of whom by suicide after testifying to the Senate committee.

Calhoun, who was appointed to the top job in 2020, has already announced he plans to step down as CEO by the end of this year. A successor has not yet been named.

Click to play video: 'Boeing CEO to step down as embattled plane maker faces quality and safety crisis'
Boeing CEO to step down as embattled plane maker faces quality and safety crisis

Among those in the room were the parents and brother of 24-year-old Danielle Moore, who was on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that crashed shortly after takeoff in 2019.

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The Moore family drove to Washington from Toronto to demand accountability from Boeing and its leadership.

“My sister was someone who cared, and what I’m seeing at Boeing is a culture of people who don’t care, who don’t care about the work that they’re doing, who don’t care about public safety,” David Moore said in an interview ahead of the hearing.

Chris Moore stood and held a large photo of his daughter directly behind the witness’ table where Calhoun testified, joining a sea of family members who displayed reminders of their losses for the CEO and senators to see.

“I feel (Danielle) right now moving us to … demand accountability of Boeing and even the FAA,” he told Global News. “There’s a lot of blame to be passed around here.”

Clariss Moore, Danielle’s mother, yelled through tears “how could you, Boeing and the CEO, let that happen,” as Calhoun entered the hearing room. Other attendees yelled “shame.”

From left, David Moore, Clariss Moore and Chris Moore, the brother and parents of Danielle Moore, speak to Global News in Washington, D.C., ahead of Boeing CEO David Calhoun’s U.S. Senate testimony on June 18, 2024. Danielle Moore was one of the passengers of a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft that crashed in Ethiopia in 2019, killing everyone onboard. Brett Carlson / Global News

Calhoun’s testimony comes as the U.S. Justice Department considers whether to prosecute Boeing for violating a 2021 settlement following the fatal crashes.

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The department determined last month that Boeing violated settlement terms that shielded the company from prosecution for fraud for allegedly misleading regulators who approved the 737 Max. A top department official said Boeing failed to make changes to detect and prevent future violations of anti-fraud laws.

Prosecutors have until July 7 to decide what to do next.

Boeing says it has slowed production, encouraged employees to report safety concerns, stopped assembly lines for a day to let workers talk about safety, and it appointed a retired Navy admiral to lead a quality review. Late last month, it delivered an improvement plan ordered by the FAA.

That hasn’t stopped the bad news for Boeing, however.

Click to play video: 'U.S. mulls prosecuting Boeing over 737 Max crashes'
U.S. mulls prosecuting Boeing over 737 Max crashes

In the past week, the FAA said it was investigating how falsely-documented titanium parts got into Boeing’s supply chain, and federal officials examined “substantial” damage to a Southwest Airlines 737 Max after an unusual mid-flight control issue.

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Boeing disclosed that it hasn’t received a single order for a new Max — previously its best-selling plane — in two months.

Chris Moore said he wants to see a criminal trial in order for the truth behind the company’s culture to come to light.

“I don’t fly anymore,” he said. “And it’s not because I’m scared. It’s because I don’t want to support this industry.”

— with files from Global’s Jackson Proskow and the Associated Press

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