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Boeing CEO Faces Intense Scrutiny Over Safety Practices in Senate Hearing

Boeing ceo
Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Investigations Subcommittee hearing to examine “Boeing’s broken safety culture” on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 18, 2024. (Photo by SAMUEL CORUM / AFP) (Photo by SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Boeing CEO David Calhoun faced rigorous questioning from lawmakers on Tuesday regarding the aviation giant’s safety and manufacturing practices. This marked his first appearance before Congress since a panel malfunction on a 737 Max during an Alaska Airlines flight in January.

Addressing the Senate investigations subcommittee, Calhoun acknowledged flaws in Boeing’s corporate culture, stating, “Our culture is far from perfect,” but emphasized the company’s commitment to “ensuring every employee feels empowered to speak up if there is a problem.” He also highlighted ongoing efforts to enhance “transparency and accountability, while elevating employee engagement.”

Calhoun, who has led Boeing since January 2020, began his testimony by addressing relatives of those who perished in two 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019. “We are totally committed in their memory to focus on safety. Again, I am sorry,” he said, as attendees held up photographs of the victims.

“Proud of Our Safety Record”

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., led the most pointed interrogation, focusing on Calhoun’s salary. Calhoun, set to retire at the end of the year, earned $32.8 million last year. Hawley accused Boeing of compromising safety for profit, saying, “You are cutting corners, eliminating safety procedures, and sticking it to your employees.”

Hawley pressed Calhoun on why he had not resigned. Calhoun responded, “Senator, I’m sticking this through. I’m proud of having taken the job. I’m proud of our safety record. And I am very proud of our Boeing people.” Hawley retorted, “You’re proud of the safety record?” expressing disbelief, to which Calhoun affirmed, “I am proud of every action we’ve taken.”

Fresh Whistleblower Allegations

Calhoun’s testimony was further complicated by new whistleblower allegations released by the Senate panel. One whistleblower, Boeing employee Sam Mohawk, claimed that Boeing mishandled damaged parts and concealed evidence from the Federal Aviation Administration. Another anonymous whistleblower alleged that Boeing sought to eliminate independent quality inspections, instead having workers inspect their own work.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chair of the subcommittee, condemned Boeing’s culture, stating, “This is a culture that continues to prioritize profits, push limits, and disregard its workers.”

Earlier this year, whistleblowers had told lawmakers that employees raising concerns about manufacturing defects and quality control issues were ignored or threatened. Boeing denied these allegations, defending the safety of its planes. In a statement to CBS News, Boeing said it was reviewing the latest whistleblower claims and encouraged employees to report all concerns.

Boeing’s Deadly Max Crashes

While no serious injuries occurred in the Alaska Airlines incident, it reignited concerns over the 737 Max. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are conducting investigations. Calhoun asserted that Boeing had taken responsibility and cooperated transparently with these agencies, stressing, “We are taking comprehensive action today to strengthen safety and quality.”

Blumenthal reminded the hearing of Boeing’s previous promises to overhaul its safety practices following the deadly Max crashes in 2018 and 2019. “Five years ago, Boeing made a promise to overhaul its safety practices and culture. That promise proved empty, and the American people deserve an explanation,” he said, underscoring the importance of Calhoun’s testimony for Boeing to regain public trust.

Calhoun is expected to step down by the end of the year, with a new CEO to be named.