Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg used the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting to defend the aircraft manufacturer’s response to safety concerns surrounding the beleaguered 737 MAX aircraft. He unequivocally dismissed suggestions that the aviation giant may have rushed the plane to market, calling the accusations “simply untrue.”
Facing a large gathering of stakeholders for the first time since the grounding of nearly all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, company executives vigorously defended both their response to recent dual air disasters and the engineering process that preceded the popular passenger jet’s launch. CEO Dennis Muilenburg lashed out at any suggestions that Boeing was pressured to rush the next generation aircraft to market due to competitive concerns. He instead praised those involved in the 737 MAX program, calling any notion that corners were cut “simply untrue.”
“It was a six-year development; 1,600 test-flights of the airplane; 3,700 flight hours of development on the Max,” Muilenburg told shareholders on Monday in comments first reported by CBS News. “So it was thorough and it was disciplined.”
Investigations into the crashes of two 737 MAX planes in less than six months have increasingly focused on potential problems with the planes’ automated Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The Boeing chief, however, declined to link the system designed to prevent a stall and the recent disasters. When pressed, Muilenburg characterized the recent efforts to re-engineer the MCAS system as a natural evolution of the technology.
“It’s not correct to attribute that to any single item,” he said. “We know there are some improvements we can make to the MCAS and we will make those improvements. But the reason this industry is safe is that we never stop on making safety improvements. We never claim we have reached the endpoint. We are continuously, across all of our airplane programs, improving safety every day. We always look for opportunities to improve.”
Muilenburg also railed against reports that Boeing charged additional fees for critical safety features including indicators that may have alerted crews to problems with the MCAS system. These indicators were reportedly not available to the pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 or Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
“We don’t make safety features optional,” Muilenburg told the audience of investors. “Safety has been and always will be our top priority, and every one of our airplanes includes all of the safety features necessary for safe flight.”
The Boeing CEO told stakeholders that the fallout following the recent crashes and subsequent grounding of 737 MAX planes has already cost the aviation giant along with some of its biggest customers hundreds of millions in lost revenue. He said the company hopes to staunch this bleeding as soon as possible.
“The first focus here is safely getting the Max up and flying,” Muilenburg promised. “And then we’ll address the follow-on issues.”
Although the executive remained defiant about Boeing’s record and singleminded focus on safety, he was careful to express sympathy for those who lost their lives. Muilenburg took a solemn moment to personally offer his condolences for the tragedies.
“I am strongly vested in that my clear intent is to continue to lead on safety and quality and integrity,” he said. “It’s important to stress that. We deeply regret what happened with these accidents. It gets to the core of our company.”
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