November 06, 2019

Udall, Blumenthal Demand Clarification from Boeing on Conflicting and Evasive Statements during Senate Hearing about Recent 737 MAX Crashes

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), both members of the Senate Commerce Committee, are requesting Boeing President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg clarify two parts of his testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on whether the company had previously stated recent 737 MAX crashes were the result of pilot error and whether the plane’s automated flight control system (MCAS) was included or intended to be included in the flight operation manual for pilots.

On the first point, during the recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Muilenburg responded to a question from Udall and said Boeing had not “blamed the pilots and I know that's been reported but that is not our company position and it never will be.  We are responsible for our airplanes, we are responsible, and we own that, regardless of cause.  Any accident with one of our airplanes is unacceptable.”

The senators pointed out that Muilenburg’s hearing testimony contradicts comments made by Boeing staff. “Your staff made the assertion in meetings with multiple Senate offices that the pilots and the aviation culture of the countries involved were a significant part of the problems leading to the crashes,” the senators wrote in their letter to Muilenburg.  

“In addition, you also said something very similar during Boeing’s April 29, 2019 shareholder meeting.  According to multiple media reports, you said the pilots did not ‘completely’ follow the procedures that Boeing had outlined to prevent the kind of malfunction that probably caused the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302,” wrote the senators.

On the second point, Udall and Blumenthal also raised concerns about Boeing’s efforts to conceal the existence of the Boeing 737 MAX’s automated flight control system (MCAS) from the original Flight Crew Operation Manual (FCOM) – an aircraft-training manual for pilots.

“Based upon recently released e-mails between Mark Forkner, Boeing’s Chief Technical Pilot on the 737 MAX at the time, and unidentified employees at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing minimized or obscured the presence of the MCAS system – repeatedly asking the FAA to delete mention of it in the manual,” the senators wrote. “Senator Blumenthal made this point at Wednesday’s hearing, and your evasive response as to when you became aware of this effort raises more questions about Boeing’s commitment to safety." 

The senators are requesting Muilenburg either revise his statement provided to the Senate Commerce Committee by November 13, 2019 to either acknowledge that Boeing did assign blame on the pilots of the two downed aircraft or explain how previous statements are consistent with his testimony.  Additionally, Udall and Blumenthal are seeking confirmation for the hearing record about whether MCAS was at any time included or intended to be included in the flight operation manual for pilots or any differences training. 

The full letter can be found below and HERE.

Dear Mr. Muilenburg,

We write to express our concerns regarding two aspects of your testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation last Wednesday.  

First, we are interested in clarifying Boeing’s position on whether or not the recent 737 MAX crashes were the result of pilot error. During your testimony, in response to a question from Senator Udall, you stated the following:

“I do think it's important for me to clarify a point that you made earlier.  We - we have not blamed the pilots and I know that's been reported but that is not our company position and it never will be. We are responsible for our airplanes, we are responsible, and we own that, regardless of cause. Any accident with one of our airplanes is unacceptable.” 

Unfortunately, your response is not accurate. Your staff made the assertion in meetings with multiple Senate offices that the pilots and the aviation culture of the countries involved were a significant part of the problems leading to the crashes. In addition, you also said something very similar during Boeing’s April 29, 2019 shareholder meeting. According to multiple media reports, you said the pilots did not "completely" follow the procedures that Boeing had outlined to prevent the kind of malfunction that probably caused the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. A Lion Air 737 MAX crashed under similar circumstances last October.

We also have concerns about your response at the hearing about efforts at Boeing to conceal the existence of the Boeing 737 MAX’s automated flight control system (MCAS) from the original Flight Crew Operation Manual (FCOM) – an aircraft-training manual for pilots.  Based upon recently released e-mails between Mark Forkner, Boeing’s Chief Technical Pilot on the 737 MAX at the time, and unidentified employees at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing minimized or obscured the presence of the MCAS system – repeatedly asking the FAA to delete mention of it in the manual. In fact, in the over 1,600-page original FCOM for Boeing's 737 MAX 8, the aircraft's new MCAS computer system was mentioned only once by name – in the glossary of abbreviated terms. Senator Blumenthal made this point at Wednesday’s hearing, and your evasive response as to when you became aware of this effort raises more questions about Boeing’s commitment to safety. Boeing’s position that these crashes were the result of pilot error does not hold water if important information about MCAS was stricken, or otherwise intentionally or insufficiently disclosed, from pilot manuals and training materials. 

With that in mind, we ask that you that you revise your statement provided to the Senate Commerce Committee by November 13, 2019 to either acknowledge that Boeing did assign blame on the pilots of the two downed aircraft or explain how your previous statement is consistent with your testimony. Additionally, we ask that you confirm whether MCAS was at any time included or intended to be included in the flight operation manual for pilots or any differences training.