Chairs DeFazio, Larsen Statements from Hearing titled, “The Boeing 737 MAX: Examining the Design, Development, and Marketing of the Aircraft”
Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) during today’s hearing titled: “The Boeing 737 MAX: Examining the Design, Development, and Marketing of the Aircraft.”
Thank you, Mr. Muilenburg and Mr. Hamilton, for being at today’s hearing, “The Boeing 737 MAX: Examining the Design, Development, and Marketing of the Aircraft.” This is the fourth hearing our Committee has held on the 737 MAX since May, but the first Full Committee hearing on this subject.
I know Boeing wanted to wait to testify until after the airplane was ungrounded, but I thought it was important you appear before our Committee before the MAX returned to service.
You are here today because 346 people—sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers—died on two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the span of five months. If you need a reminder of the lives that have been devastated by these tragedies, you can look to the family members of those on Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 who are sitting to your left. Their lives have been forever changed as a result of these two crashes, crashes that could have been avoided.
Something went drastically wrong, a total of 346 people died, and we have a duty to fix it.
As you know, our Committee has been conducting a robust investigation of the design, development, and certification of Boeing’s 737 MAX since March. In fact, our investigation is the most extensive and important investigation this Committee has undertaken during my time on the Committee.
Over the last several months, we have received hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from Boeing and others, and our staff is continuing to review those records. Our investigation is not complete, and we will continue to investigate these issues until we have clear answers to our questions. The family members of those who died, many of whom are here today, deserve answers too.
There are areas we are exploring that remain murky, and we need to bring clarity to those issues. But there is a lot we have learned over the past seven months, and we expect you to answer a number of questions to improve our understanding of what happened and why.
We now know that a single point of failure triggered a novel flight control system that put these two flights into unrecoverable dives. As a result of this single point of failure—the angle of attack sensor—the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) led to repeated and continuous nose-down trim commands in both accidents, and the chain of events that followed and ultimately led to both aircraft impacting water or terrain.
We now know that at one point Boeing had planned to inform pilots about MCAS in their flight manuals, but then reversed course and removed virtually every reference of MCAS from the pilot operating and training manuals. As if it never existed.
We now know that Boeing engineers proposed placing an MCAS annunciator inside the cockpit itself, but that initial decision failed to materialize in the final versions of the 737 MAX. It was not until after Lion Air flight 610 plunged into the waters off the coast of Indonesia one year ago that pilots even became aware of MCAS and its capabilities. Even after these accidents, Boeing attempted to downplay MCAS and its abilities although they knew that a malfunctioning MCAS could lead to catastrophe in certain circumstances.
We now know that while Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assumed pilots would appropriately react to an MCAS malfunction resulting in stabilizer trim run-away within 4 seconds, Boeing had information that some pilots might react in 10 seconds or longer, and that if that happened, the results would be catastrophic, resulting in the loss of the aircraft.
We now know that from the very beginning of the plane’s development, Boeing touted the limited training required for pilots to switch from flying the older 737 NG to the new 737 MAX—known as “differences” training. Why is that important? Well, limiting pilot training translated into key marketing incentives to sell the MAX to airlines—it would not only save airlines money on training for their pilots, it would help get the plane approved and to market faster.
We now know that Boeing offered Southwest Airlines a rebate of $1 million per airplane if pilots ended up needing simulator training in order to fly the 737 MAX. By the time of the Lion Air crash, Southwest had already ordered nearly 300 of the aircraft. Failure to ensure the FAA provided Level B, or non-simulator, training would have cost Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars and given its competitor an advantage.
Lack of Candor
We now know that in August 2017, Boeing learned that the angle-of-attack (AOA) disagree alert—a standard, standalone feature on all 737 MAX aircraft that indicates to pilots when the readings from the left and right AOA sensors disagree—did not work on aircraft unless they also purchased an optional AOA indicator feature. Despite becoming aware of this issue, Boeing decided to delay a fix for three years—until 2020—failing to inform the FAA, its airline customers, and 737 MAX pilots about this flaw until after the Lion Air crash.
Even if the AOA disagree alert is not necessary for safe operation of the MAX, as Boeing states, the company kept everyone, including regulators, in the dark regarding its inoperability for more than a year. And during this time, Boeing continued delivering new aircraft to customers with non-functioning AOA disagree alerts and did not inform airlines or pilots the alerts were not functioning. In fact, the AOA disagree alert was included in the 737 MAX flight crew operating manual, including the one provided to Lion Air in August 2018. The actual fix was relatively simple and a software update could have been done quickly, but it wasn’t, and it is still unclear why.
We now know that at least one internal Boeing whistleblower said Boeing sacrificed safety for cost savings on some features that engineers intended to deploy on the MAX during the development process.
We now know from an internal Boeing survey conducted in November 2016, provided to the Committee from a whistleblower, that 39 percent of those Boeing employees surveyed said they experienced undue pressure and 29 percent said they were concerned about “consequences” if they reported these incidents.
We now know 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, several months before the Lion Air crash in October 2018.
But there is still a lot that we don’t know. We don’t know what the results would have been if different actions were taken. We don’t know what would have happened if more information was shared with the FAA. We don’t know what would have happened if the pilots of these two doomed 737 MAX aircraft had been required to undergo simulator training prior to flying the MAX.
We are still unclear about why Boeing designed the 737 MAX to rely on a single point of failure that the company knew could potentially be catastrophic. This was inexplicable and inexcusable. We may never know what key steps could have been taken that would have altered the fate of those flights, but we do know that a variety of decisions could have made those planes safer and perhaps saved the lives of those on board.
Mr. Muilenburg, I’ve worked on consumer and aviation safety issues for a long time, in this very room in fact. And I have seen how pressures from Wall Street have a way of influencing the decisions of the best companies in the worst way, endangering the public and jeopardizing the good work of countless workers on the factory lines. I hope that’s not the story that will be written about your long-admired company.
So we need answers from you today, Mr. Muilenburg, but more importantly, I believe the 737 MAX accidents show that we need reforms in how commercial aircraft are certified and how manufacturers, like Boeing, are watched and overseen by the regulator. Our investigation and this hearing are not just about getting answers to our questions, but about making the aviation system safer, for all who travel, and ensuring tragedies like those in Indonesia and Ethiopia never happen again.
Chairman DeFazio’s remarks as delivered can be found here.
“Thank you, Chair DeFazio.
“I will be brief, because I want to get to the reason why we are all here: for questions to and clear, direct answers from Boeing.
“Yesterday, I released a video opening statement, where you can find my full comments.
“The 346 lives lost in the Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian Airlines 302 crashes are constant reminders of the importance of this Committee’s work and what is at stake if we do not address the systemic safety issues in U.S. aviation today.
“Some of the victims’ family members are with us today and others are watching the livestream. Your presence and tireless advocacy are essential to our process.
“You deserve answers and rightfully expect Congress to act.
“Following the recent release of recommendations from the JATR, NTSB, Indonesian authorities and Boeing itself, I see one undeniable conclusion: The process by which the Federal Aviation Administration evaluates and certifies aircraft is itself in need of repair.
“As the Committee’s investigation continues, we will maintain safety as our guiding principle and use all the tools at our disposal to ensure the safety of the traveling public.
Chairman Larsen’s remarks as delivered can be found here.
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