October 30, 2019 / 10:01 AM / 16 days ago

U.S. lawmakers will press Boeing CEO on Day 2 of testimony

WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Boeing Co Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg will face a second day of questions Wednesday from U.S. lawmakers on its now grounded 737 MAX after sharp criticism at a Senate hearing Tuesday.

U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that will hear from Muilenburg on Wednesday, said in a written statement that the committee’s lengthy investigation into the MAX has turned up significant questions about Boeing’s decision-making.

“Something went drastically wrong, a total of 346 people died, and we have a duty to fix it,” DeFazio will say in his opening statement.

DeFazio said the panel is aware of “at least one case where a Boeing manager implored the then-Vice President and General Manager of the 737 program to shut down the 737 MAX production line because of safety concerns.” Boeing did not comment Tuesday on the allegation.

Muilenburg on Tuesday acknowledged errors in failing to give pilots more information on a key safety system known as MCAS before the crashes, as well as for taking months to disclose that it had made optional an alarm that alerts pilots to a mismatch of flight data on the 737 MAX.

“We’ve made mistakes and we got some things wrong. We’re improving and we’re learning,” he said.

The hearing, the highest-profile congressional scrutiny of commercial aviation safety in years, heaps pressure on a newly rejiggered Boeing senior management team fighting to repair trust with airline customers and passengers shaken by an eight-month safety ban on its 737 MAX following the crashes, which killed 346 people.

“You have told me half-truths over and over again,” Senator Tammy Duckworth told Muilenburg, questioning why the manufacturer did not disclose more details about MCAS’s lack of safeguards.

Taking turns to grill Muilenburg during his first appearance at a hearing on Capitol Hill in the year since the first crash in Indonesia, senators suggested Boeing had not been completely honest and expressed dismay that the 2016 instant messages did not prompt an immediate reaction from the company.

For months, Boeing had largely failed to acknowledge blame, instead vowing to make a “safe plane safer.” Tuesday’s hearing represents Boeing’s broadest acceptance of responsibility that it made mistakes but Muilenburg stopped short of what some lawmakers and family members had sought.

Family members were seated just three rows behind Muilenburg during his testimony and were invited at one point to stand and show large photos of their loved ones.

Nadia Milleron, whose daughter was killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March, said Muilenburg and the board should resign for failing to do more to prevent the crashes.

As Muilenburg departed the hearing, she implored him to look at the victims’ families when he apologized. He turned to her and said: “I’m sorry.” (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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