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The world’s biggest plane maker Boeing has been accused by members of the US Senate of putting profits before safety, and engaging in “a pattern of deliberate concealment.”
The company’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg testified before the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday over the failure of the aircraft maker and US regulators to identify and correct flaws in the design of the 737 MAX jet that led to two crashes, killing 346 people.
It was Muilenburg’s first public testimony since the tragic events, taking place on the first anniversary of the Lion Air flight 610 crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people. In March, after an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashed, killing 157 people, the 737 MAX was grounded worldwide. Muilenburg then pledged that such accidents would not happen again.
“We are sorry, truly and deeply sorry,” Muilenburg said to the family members of crash victims when opening his testimony. “As a husband and father, I am heartbroken by your losses.”
He has admitted the firm had made “mistakes.”
“We have learned from both accidents and identified changes that need to be made,” said the CEO, who was forced to step down as Boeing chairman earlier this month.
company has faced increasing criticism for its design and its process
of certifying the jet. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has
also been criticized for lax oversight of the plane maker.
“Both of these accidents were entirely avoidable,” Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker said. “We cannot fathom the pain experienced by the families of those 346 souls who were lost.”
According to Wicker, messages between Boeing staff during certification that raised issues in the MCAS test system betrayed “a disturbing level of casualness and flippancy.”
The automated control system in the 737 MAX 8, known as MCAS, has been identified as a factor in both accidents.
Ahead of the testimony, Boeing provided pilots’ messages suggesting test pilots knew about defects in the anti-stall system but failed to alert regulators.
Muilenburg claimed he was not fully briefed on the details of the messages until a “couple of weeks ago,” despite the company knowing of the exchange before the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal sharply accused Boeing of engaging in “a pattern of deliberate concealment.” He has accused Muilenberg and Boeing of supplying “flying coffins as a result of Boeing deciding to conceal MCAS from pilots.”
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz called the test pilot’s exchange “shocking,” and accused Boeing of withholding knowledge of the systems faults from regulators.
“How come your team didn’t come to you with their hair on fire, saying, ‘We’ve got a real problem here’? What does that say about Boeing? Why did you not act before 346 people died?” Cruz asked.