Following Recent Hearing on the Boeing 737 MAX, Chair DeFazio Presses Boeing CEO for Additional Information About Decisions on MCAS, Grounding the Aircraft, CEO Pay, Boeing’s Legal Strategy and More
Washington, DC- Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has sent a series of follow-up questions to Boeing President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who testified before the Committee on Wednesday, October 30, 2019, about the decisions that were made before, during, and after the rollout of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The 737 MAX, which went into commercial service two years ago, was involved in two separate crashes within five months of each other in October 2018 and March 2019 that left 346 people dead.
As the head of the Committee with jurisdiction over civil aviation, Chair DeFazio has been investigating the design, development and certification of the 737 MAX since mid-March. Mr. Muilenburg’s answers to Chair DeFazio, both during the October 30th hearing and to the questions that follow, will help inform the Committee’s ongoing investigation.
Among other things, Chair DeFazio asked Mr. Muilenburg the following questions:
- Whether Boeing worked with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the emergency airworthiness directive that was issued to pilots about one week after the Lion Air crash, which didn’t mention MCAS by name;
- Whether Mr. Muilenburg agreed with regulators’ decisions to ground the 737 MAX;
- Whether he stands by his comments at an April 29, 2019, press conference that MCAS did not require pilot training;
- What Boeing knew after the first crash about the potentially catastrophic risk of a malfunctioning AOA sensor on the 737 MAX due to interaction with MCAS;
- The amount of his bonus in 2018, the year of the Lion Air accident, and how much of it he has offered to return; and
- Whether Boeing intends to move litigation filed on behalf of families of victims of the Lion Air crash out of the U.S. to Indonesia.
More on the Committee’s investigation, including a recent letter Chairs DeFazio and Larsen sent to their colleagues about their key takeaways from the October 30 hearing, is here.
The full text of Chair DeFazio’s questions is below.
Chair DeFazio’s Questions for the Record
- Mr. Muilenburg, the last two new airplanes developed by Boeing, the 787 Dreamliner and the 737 MAX, have been the subjects of worldwide groundings. Before the 787 grounding, the last airliner type to be grounded was the DC-10 in 1979. What efforts has the company taken in response to both groundings to ensure future airplane designs do not have similar fates?
- Mr. Muilenburg, the 737 fuselage is based on the 707 fuselage introduced in 1958. The original 737 itself was type-certified in 1967. The trim wheel in the 737 MAX—an important part of the story of the 737 MAX crashes—also dates to the 1967 737 version. For more than 50 years this aircraft’s type certificate has been amended 13 times. Redesigns may save design and development costs, but they present challenges regarding upgrades to the safety of the aircraft. What sorts of challenges did re-designing the 737NG into the 737 MAX present and when will Boeing decide the 737 has had its day and that it’s time to develop an entirely new single-aisle airplane?
FAA Emergency Airworthiness Directive
The day after Boeing issued its November 6, 2018, flight crew operations manual bulletin numbered TBC-19, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued its emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to owners and operators of 737 MAX airplanes. Like Boeing's bulletin, the emergency AD described how erroneously high angle of attack (AOA) inputs can cause “repeated nose-down trim commands,” with nose down trim increments “lasting up to 10 seconds,” which, if not addressed, could cause control difficulties and “possible impact with terrain.” As with the bulletin, there was no mention of MCAS whatsoever in this document issued to operators across the globe after the Lion Air flight 610 accident.
- Did Boeing work with the FAA to develop the FAA’s emergency AD issued on November 7, 2018?
- Did Boeing have any discussions with the FAA, written or oral, specifically about whether MCAS should be mentioned in this document?
- If yes, why was MCAS ultimately excluded?
i. Did Boeing recommend or suggest that MCAS be excluded?
ii. If so, why did Boeing suggest MCAS be excluded from the FAA’s emergency AD?
- If no, why did you not discuss MCAS with the FAA in regard to the emergency AD?
Boeing’s Response Post-Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Accident
Mr. Muilenburg, at an April 29 press conference, you said that the AOA Disagree alert, which we learned was inoperative on most 737 MAX aircraft, “is not something that drives pilot action.”
- Are you saying that pilots would do nothing if their AOA Disagree alert illuminates?
- How do you reconcile your comments with the Indonesian authorities' report released last month on the Lion Air crash indicating that without the alert’s enabling, pilots could not document the issue, which may have helped maintenance staff identify the mis-calibrated AOA sensor that triggered MCAS on Lion Air flight 610?
Mr. Muilenburg, at an April 29 press conference, you said that MCAS is “not something that needs to be trained on separately. It’s fundamentally imbedded in the handling qualities of the airplane. And so, when you train on the airplane, you’re being trained on MCAS.”
- Knowing what you know now, do you stand by your comments?
- Given the two accidents involving unintended MCAS activation, do you now believe that pilots should have known about MCAS before flying a MAX? If so, why now and not then?
Mr. Muilenburg, at an April 29 press conference, you stated MCAS was “designed to provide handling qualities for the pilot that meet pilot preferences. We want the airplane to behave in the air similar to the previous generation 737’s. That’s the preferred pilot feel for the airplane, how it feels as they’re flying it. And MCAS is designed to provide those kinds of handling qualities at high angles of attack.”
- If that was indeed the goal, would it have been advisable to inform pilots of potential MCAS malfunctions that would affect handling qualities or the feel for the airplane?
Mr. Muilenburg, immediately after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, Boeing made clear it believed that the grounding of the 737 MAX was unnecessary. In fact, media reports widely circulated your disagreement with the idea in your conversation with President Trump, and Boeing further stated on March 12 that “based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”
- Do you agree with regulators' decisions to ultimately ground the 737 MAX?
- Did Boeing leadership ever consider issuing a service bulletin or requesting voluntarily that FAA ground the 737 MAX prior to the FAA’s official grounding?
- If Boeing did consider this, please provide specifics. When was this issue raised, under what circumstances, and by whom? Why was the ultimate decision made not to request that the FAA ground the 737 MAX and who at Boeing made that decision?
- When did Boeing first learn about the FAA decision to ground the 737 MAX in U.S. airspace?
- If Boeing felt that the 737 MAX was safe enough to not warrant grounding, why was it then pursuing software changes to MCAS even before the Ethiopian Airlines crash?
What Boeing Knew Then
You testified repeatedly before our Committee that had Boeing known what it knows now, the company would have made different decisions with regard to the 737 MAX. Specifically:
In response to my question about why Boeing didn’t design MCAS from day one to use information from both AOA sensors, you said, “Mr. Chairman, we have asked ourselves that same question over and over. And if back then we knew everything that we know now, we would have made a different decision.”
In response to Rep. Craig’s question about when Boeing should have grounded the plane, you said, “Congresswoman, we have asked ourselves that question many, many times. And if we knew back then what we know now, we would have grounded it right after the first accident.”
Before the Lion Air accident, Boeing was already aware that MCAS relied on just one AOA sensor, and according to documentation made public at the hearing, a Boeing engineer as far back as 2015 had already asked, “Are we vulnerable to single AOA sensor failure with the MCAS implementation or is there some checking that occurs?”
In addition, other documentation made public at the hearing established that Boeing was also already well aware, before the Lion Air accident, that if a pilot did not react to unintended MCAS activation within 10 seconds, the result could be catastrophic.
- What new information did Boeing learn only after the October 2018 Lion Air accident, that it didn’t already know previously, with regard to the potentially catastrophic risk that a malfunctioning AOA sensor could have on the MAX due to its interaction with MCAS?
- What new information did Boeing learn only after the March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines accident, that it didn’t already know previously, with regard to the potentially catastrophic risk that a malfunctioning AOA sensor could have on the MAX due to its interaction with MCAS?
Boeing CEO Bonus Pay
On November 5, 2019, it was reported that you were declining to take your bonus in 2019 and opting out of consideration for equity grants until the 737 MAX is back in the air. Yet, as of October 26, 2019, Boeing had already announced that it would not be paying annual bonuses to its management, executives, or unionized engineers and white-collar workers.
- What 2019 bonus, if any, are you declining to accept that Boeing had not already determined that you would not be receiving?
- With regard to your opting out of consideration for equity grants, are you foregoing consideration for these equity grants until the 737 MAX is back in the air, or are you merely deferring consideration for these equity grants?
- How much was your bonus in 2018, the year of the Lion Air accident, and how much of it have you offered to return?
- How much did you receive in equity grants in 2018, the year of the Lion Air accident, and how much of these grants have you offered to return?
Moving Lawsuits to Indonesia
In May, it was reported that Boeing had indicated in court filings that it was likely to request that cases on behalf of the victims of the October 2018 Lion Air accident involving the 737 MAX be moved to Indonesia. At the hearing, in response to questions from both Rep. Hank Johnson and me about whether Boeing plans to seek to move litigation filed on behalf of victims of the Lion Air accident from Chicago to Indonesia, you stated that you did not know the answer and would get back to our Committee with an answer.
- Your answer also suggested this was an issue you had not been briefed on or involved in, in any way at Boeing. Now that you have had time to review records relevant to this question since the hearing, did you receive any briefings regarding Boeing’s litigation strategy regarding the Lion Air accident in Indonesia?
- Is Boeing planning to seek to move litigation filed on behalf of the families of victims of the Lion Air accident from Chicago to Indonesia?
- Does Boeing have any reason to believe that if it loses this litigation, it will ultimately have to pay less to the plaintiffs if the litigation takes place in Indonesia as opposed to in the United States?
- Are you aware of differences between the Indonesian legal system and the one we have in the United States including but not limited to the lack of a Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial, a right to a cross-examination of witnesses, and a requirement of discovery in Indonesia?
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