Boeing CEO says pilots of doomed Ethiopia jet did not ‘completely’ follow procedures as firm reveals previously undisclosed software glitch affecting 737 Max aircraft

11 mins read
  • Boeing exec Dennis Muilenburg took questions for the first time since accidents 
  • Lion Air crash on October 29 and Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10 killed 346
  • Muilenburg insisted safety systems on 737 Max planes were properly designed 
  • Told reporters he has no intention of stepping down despite grounding of planes
  • Said company has nearly finished an update that ‘will make the airplane even safer’ but refused to take full responsibility for the deadly crashes 
  • Firm revealed safety feature was ‘not activated as intended’ on the 737 Max 
  • Disagree alert only works if another optional feature is also turned on by airline 
  • The Max has been grounded worldwide since mid-March, after the second crash

The CEO of Boeing has said the pilots from two deadly crashes did not ‘completely’ follow safety procedures – as the airline revealed a previously undisclosed software glitch on the 737 Max.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Dennis Muilenburg said the airline had provided steps that should be taken in response to problems like those encountered by pilots of the planes that crashed.

It is the first time Muilenburg has taken questions following the deaths of 346 people in the October 29 Lion Air and the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crashes.

He told reporters: ‘In some cases those procedures were not completely followed.’

Hours later, Boeing admitted the ‘disagree alert’ – an indicator to warn pilots about the kind of sensor failure that has been linked to both accidents – was ‘not activated as intended’.

The disagree alert, which is standard on the Max planes, only works if the airline has also activated the angle of attack indicator, which is optional.

Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg, pictured during a press conference in Chicago on Monday, said the pilots from two deadly crashes did not 'completely' follow safety procedures - as the airline revealed a previously undisclosed software glitch on the 737 Max

Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg, pictured during a press conference in Chicago on Monday, said the pilots from two deadly crashes did not ‘completely’ follow safety procedures – as the airline revealed a previously undisclosed software glitch on the 737 Max

The firm said in a statement: ‘Boeing did not intentionally or otherwise deactivate the disagree alert on its MAX airplanes.

‘The disagree alert was intended to be a standard, stand-alone feature on MAX airplanes. However, the disagree alert was not operable on all airplanes because the feature was not activated as intended.’

The statement comes after Southwest Airlines revealed they only found out the safety feature was turned off on the Max after the Lion Air crash over the weekend.

But Muilenburg insisted during the press conference that the safety systems followed the same design and certification process it has always used to build safe planes, and he denied that the Max was rushed to market.

‘As in most accidents, there are a chain of events that occurred,’ he said. ‘It’s not correct to attribute that to any single item.’

He was also asked whether he will resign, which he said he as no plans to do.

The news conference, held after Boeing’s annual meeting in Chicago, came amid questions about the Max, which has been grounded worldwide since mid-March.

Published reports said that federal regulators and congressional investigators are examining safety allegations relating to the Max that were raised by about a dozen purported whistleblowers.

And the pilots’ union at American Airlines said Boeing’s proposal for additional pilot training on the Max doesn’t go far enough.

For instance, the union for American Airlines pilots wants, at a minimum, mandatory additional training to include video demonstrations of how to respond to failures of systems on the plane.

The annual meeting came six months to the day since the Lion Air crash. Muilenburg told shareholders that Boeing is close to completing an upgrade to flight software on the Max ‘that will ensure accidents like these never happen again.’

The annual meeting came six months to the day since the Lion Air crash in the Karawang Bay, West Java, occurred on October 29. A search missing is shown being carried out at the site of the crash on October 30

The annual meeting came six months to the day since the Lion Air crash in the Karawang Bay, West Java, occurred on October 29. A search missing is shown being carried out at the site of the crash on October 30

In the brief news conference that followed, Muilenburg said - as he has several times before - that the accidents resulted from a 'chain of events' that included the erroneous activation of flight software known as MCAS. This picture taken at the Tanjung Priok Jakarta port on October 30, 2018 shows Indonesian people examining debris of the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 in Jakarta

In the brief news conference that followed, Muilenburg said – as he has several times before – that the accidents resulted from a ‘chain of events’ that included the erroneous activation of flight software known as MCAS. This picture taken at the Tanjung Priok Jakarta port on October 30, 2018 shows Indonesian people examining debris of the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 in Jakarta

In the brief news conference that followed, Muilenburg said – as he has several times before – that the accidents resulted from a ‘chain of events’ that included the erroneous activation of flight software known as MCAS.

Boeing has conceded that in both accidents, MCAS was triggered by faulty readings from a single sensor that pushed the planes’ noses down.

‘We know this is a link in both accidents that we can break. That’s a software update that we know how to do … this will make the airplane even safer,’ Muilenburg said.

Muilenburg took six questions from reporters before leaving with reporters still questioning him, including one who pointed to the deaths of 346 people and urged the CEO to take more questions.

Besides the software update, Boeing will present the Federal Aviation Administration with a plan for training pilots on changes to MCAS.

The company is pushing for training that can be done on tablet computers and, if airlines want to offer it, additional time in flight simulators when pilots are due for periodic retraining.

Accidents involving the Boeing 737 Max in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed a total of 346 people. Wreckage is shown on March 11 piled at the crash scene of the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines flight crash near Bishoftu, Ethiopia

Accidents involving the Boeing 737 Max in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed a total of 346 people. Wreckage is shown on March 11 piled at the crash scene of the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines flight crash near Bishoftu, Ethiopia

Pieces of the wreckage of an Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft are shown piled at the crash site near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, on March 13, three days after the crash

Pieces of the wreckage of an Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft are shown piled at the crash site near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, on March 13, three days after the crash

Southwest Airlines said over the weekend that Boeing did not disclose that a safety feature on the 737 - an indicator to warn pilots about the kind of sensor failure that has been linked to both accidents - was turned off on the Max. In this file photo taken on March 28, 2019, Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked on the tarmac after being grounded at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California

Southwest Airlines said over the weekend that Boeing did not disclose that a safety feature on the 737 – an indicator to warn pilots about the kind of sensor failure that has been linked to both accidents – was turned off on the Max. In this file photo taken on March 28, 2019, Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked on the tarmac after being grounded at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California

Muilenburg took six questions from reporters, including whether he will resign, which he said he has no intention of doing. Muilenburg is pictured in Chicago on Monday

Muilenburg took six questions from reporters, including whether he will resign, which he said he has no intention of doing. Muilenburg is pictured in Chicago on Monday

Boeing vows to fix 737 Max issues following Ethiopian crash report

A requirement for training in simulators would further delay the return of the Max because of the relatively small number of flight simulators.

The union for American Airlines pilots wants mandatory additional training on checklists for responding to certain emergencies.

‘Not every pilot that goes out there and flies is a Boeing test pilot,’ said Dennis Tajer, a 737 pilot and spokesman for the pilots’ union at American.

‘The responsibility to train those men and women doesn’t rest just with the airlines, it rests with Boeing and the FAA too. If something happens anywhere in the world, it affects all of us.’

During the one-hour annual meeting, shareholders elected all 13 company-backed board nominees, including newcomer Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who lobbied for a Boeing plant there, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Several shareholder resolutions were defeated, including one to name an independent chairman whenever possible instead of letting the CEO hold both jobs.

A chairman-CEO ‘is not always a bad thing, but at times of crisis it’s hardly ever a good idea,’ said Matt Brubaker, CEO of business-strategy consultant FMG Leading, who was not involved in the debate. ‘The place they are in now, they need the scrutiny of an inwardly focused CEO to drive change.’

During the one-hour annual meeting, shareholders elected all 13 company-backed board nominees, including newcomer Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who lobbied for a Boeing plant there, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The Boeing board of directors including Haley (right) and Caroline Kennedy (third from right), are announced by Muilenburg at the Boeing Annual General Meeting in Chicago on Monday

During the one-hour annual meeting, shareholders elected all 13 company-backed board nominees, including newcomer Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who lobbied for a Boeing plant there, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The Boeing board of directors including Haley (right) and Caroline Kennedy (third from right), are announced by Muilenburg at the Boeing Annual General Meeting in Chicago on Monday