Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg faced accusations of lying this afternoon during a bruising hearing on how his company certified its 737 Max jet to fly, after two crashes in the last year killed 346 people.
Muilenburg, who was last month stripped of the dual role of chief executive and chairman, has spent much of this year engulfed in the scandal surrounding the jets, after it emerged the crashes were linked to a glitch in the aircraft’s software.
As Muilenberg testified before the Senate Commerce Committee, families of the crash victims stood up behind him holding photographs of those killed in the disasters in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The hearing marked the anniversary of the first crash, of a Lion Air jet over the Indonesian Ocean.
Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal said: “Mr Muilenburg, as I watch those loved ones stand and frankly as I reviewed this file over the past week or so my anger has only grown.
“These loved ones lost lives because of an accident that was not only preventable… but was the result of a pattern of deliberate concealment.”
Muilenburg responded: “The premise that we would lie or conceal is just not consistent with our values.”
The Boeing boss did, however, admit to lawmakers in an at times fiery hearing that the firm made mistakes in designing the 737 Max, in his most public admission that it botched the development of the now-grounded best-selling jet.
“On behalf of myself and the Boeing company, we are sorry. Deeply and truly sorry. As a husband and father myself I’m heartbroken by your losses,” he said, in the first of two appearances in Congress this week on the two crashes which have left the jet grounded across the globe.
However, throughout the more than two-hour hearing, Muilenburg was three times rebuked for failing to answer senators’ questions. At one point Democratic senator Doug Testor said: “I can pivot with the best of them. You’re pivoting.
Chief engineer at Boeing John Hamilton admitted that, “with hindsight”, the firm’s safety assumptions had been wrong, after investigators linked a fault in its anti-stall system, which forced the jet’s nose to the ground, to the two deadly crashes.
The crashes have rocked Boeing, which is the world’s biggest manufacturer of passenger jets, and caused it to ground the 737 Max model indefinitely until it has been passed as safe to fly. Current estimates for when it will return to service range from December to well into next year.
Airlines have repeatedly delayed this forecast, despite taking significant financial hits over the last six months. Currently no US airline includes the 737 Max in its flight schedules until early next year. Boeing, which itself took a 57 per cent hit to its earnings in the third quarter, has said regulators will likely sign off on the model before the end of this year.