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Boeing regrets not grounding 737 Max after first crash

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 06: Dennis A. Muilenburg, President and C.E.O., The Boeing Company speaks onstage at 2019 New York Times Dealbook on November 06, 2019 in New York City. Michael Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times/AFP

The commercial plane manufacturer, Boeing, has expressed regret over not grounding its 737 Max planes after the first deadly crash a year ago.

The embattled Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg, said the company would more readily ground planes in the event of future problems.

“If we knew everything back then that we know now, we would have grounded the airplanes after the first accident,” Muilenburg said during a probe in New York.

When asked whether the company would change its approach if something similar occurred on its planes, Muilenburg replied: “I think you’re going to see us lean even heavier in that direction. We’re always going to be a company that’s going to look at the data behind what occurs and make good solid decisions.”

A Lion Air 737 Max crashed in Indonesia in October 2018, killing all 189 people aboard. Five months later, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max went down in Ethiopia, killing all 157 people on the plane. All 737 Maxes have been grounded since then as Boeing works to redesign a flight-control system blamed in the crashes.

When the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently confronted Boeing with documents outlining Boeing’s knowledge of the potential of “catastrophic” consequences, if the faulty system automatically turned itself on, Muilenburg admitted, “We made some mistakes.”

Muilenburg offered no answer, however, as to Boeing’s inaction on a number of grave warnings from engineers who called for the program to be scrapped. Lawmakers also pointed to a series of text messages citing extremely erratic software behavior in flight simulations in 2016.

The system in question, which is designed to avoid a midair stall, automatically pushes the nose of the plane downward to avoid a loss of power.

At issue is the fact that Boeing originally used only one sensor to measure the plane’s trajectory, and failed to alert pilots to the new system until after the first crash.

The company also failed to tell pilots they had installed an optional warning system to alert them of possible data mismatches between sensors. Those failures led to situations in which pilots were unable to control the aircraft.

Committee Chairman, Peter DeFazio, also asked why Boeing would approve the MCAS system if it knew it was vulnerable at one point of failure. Muilenburg said the company was asking themselves that same question. The company has since built redundancy into the system, using two sensors instead of one.

On this and other problems related to the plane, Muilenburg said: “We’ve made mistakes and we got some things wrong. We’re improving and we’re learning.” Though Muilenburg claimed the company was holding itself accountable, Representative Dan Lipinski of Illinois —where Boeing is headquartered —begged to differ: “I am not sure what accountability means if you got a $15 million (€13.5 million) bonus after Lion Air.”

Lipinski would be the first of a number of lawmakers to hammer Muilenburg about his pay throughout the hearing. Representative John Garamendi of California, for instance, accused the company of “pushing profits over quality and safety.”


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