Boeing Co (NYSE: BA) CEO Dennis Muilenburg told a U.S. Senate panel Tuesday he knew of the existence of internal messages about possible problems with an anti-stall system on the 737 MAX plane, possibly before a second crash blamed on the system, but only learned the details in recent weeks.
Muilenburg struggled to answer angry questions from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on why he and others weren't more proactive in dealing with problems with the system after the first crash, and whether regulators and the company rushed the plane's certification before it was ready.
Muilenburg also apologized to families of 346 victims of the two crashes. The hearing came on the one-year anniversary of the first crash.
Muilenburg and the company were heavily criticized by senators, not only for the failure of the system, known as MCAS, blamed in the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, but for what several said appeared to be a failure to fix a problem the company knew about.
“Both of these accidents were entirely preventable,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican who chairs the committee.
Speaking of the victims, Wicker said: “I promise their loved ones that we are working to obtain a full answer as to how to prevent future tragedies. These families deserve answers, accountability and action, and the public deserves no less.”
Senators said that as bad as the potential for the MCAS error was, it was made worse by pilots flying the 737 Max being unaware of the MCAS system or what to do if it malfunctioned.
“They were in flying coffins as a result of Boeing deciding that it was going to conceal MCAS from the pilots,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who accused Boeing of “a pattern of deliberate concealment.”
Muilenburg struggled to explain when he may have known the MCAS system had problems. He first said "I believe it was prior to the second crash,” that he learned of internal Boeing text messages from a test pilot about the MCAS problem. Later, he said, he only learned the details of some messages in recent weeks when they were publicly reported.
The CEO also addressed family members who held photos of those who died in the crashes.
“We are sorry,” he said. “Deeply and truly sorry.”
The planes are currently grounded in the United States. Muilenburg is set to appear before the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday.
Boeing shares were up 2.33% on Tuesday at $348.93.
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Photo by Steve Lynes via Wikimedia.
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