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Boeing CEO Faces House Committee


Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg goes before the House Transportation Committee today. If it's anything like yesterday's Senate appearance, Muilenburg will face harsh questions about Boeing's 737 Max aircraft. Senators pressed the CEO yesterday on whether his company concealed details about a new flight control system that is partly blamed for two crashes. Here's NPR's Russell Lewis.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Three hundred forty-six people died in those crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Some family members of the victims sat quietly behind Dennis Muilenburg as he testified before a Senate committee. They listened as the Boeing CEO apologized and then faced withering questioning from upset lawmakers like Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.


TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Boeing has not told the whole truth to this committee and to the families and to the people looking at this.

ROGER WICKER: Both of these accidents were entirely preventable.

LEWIS: The 737 Max was designed with a new flight control system called MCAS. Boeing never told pilots about it, and there were no instructions in the operating manuals. In both crashes, the system activated after receiving erroneous information, pushing the nose of the aircraft down repeatedly. Muilenburg says Boeing has been challenged and changed by these accidents.


DENNIS MUILENBURG: We've made mistakes, and we got some things wrong. We're improving, and we're learning. And we're continuing to learn.

LEWIS: Still, Muilenburg couldn't answer if Boeing and the FAA rushed to certify the 737 Max. He had little to say about internal messages that came to light this year from a senior Boeing test pilot in 2016 that discussed, quote, "egregious" problems with MCAS in a flight simulator. Muilenburg outlined plans to lawmakers to make the planes safer including changes to the flight control system, adding redundancy and no longer charging airlines more for certain cockpit alerts. For Montana Senator Jon Tester, none of this was enough.


JON TESTER: I would walk before I was to get on a 737 Max. I would walk. There's no way. And the question becomes, when issues like this happen, it costs your company huge.

LEWIS: Perhaps one of the most poignant moments during the hearing came when lawmakers pressed Muilenburg why Boeing didn't just ground the plane after the first crash when it was clear MCAS was partly to blame, and it wasn't a simple case of pilot error.


MUILENBURG: I think about that decision over and over every day.

LEWIS: If Boeing had, the Ethiopian Airlines crash last March that killed 157 people would never have happened. Russell Lewis, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.