Boeing CEO Apologizes to Crash Victims’ Families. Whistleblowers Highlight the Need for Change.

Boeing CEO David Calhoun faced intense scrutiny during a Senate hearing, where he apologized to the families of victims from previous plane crashes. This hearing also highlighted the significance of whistleblowers.

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Senator Blumenthal's Remarks

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee, expressed his gratitude to the families for attending the hearing on Capital Hill. The hearing was attended by many families holding posters of their loved ones lost in the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in 2018 and the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash in 2019. Blumenthal emphasized the real human consequences of Boeing’s issues, stating, “The issues before us today have real human consequences [and] real life and death results.”

Before starting his statement, Calhoun turned to the families and said, “I apologize for the grief we have caused. We are focused on safety.” This apology was a significant moment, setting the tone for the hearing, where the focus was on Boeing’s safety practices and the company’s efforts to rebuild trust. Calhoun took responsibility for having installed the system that led to the crashes that killed a total of 364 people.

Pressing Questions

Blumenthal questioned Calhoun on the progress made since his appointment to turn Boeing around. He cited a recent incident where a door plug blew out of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 shortly after takeoff, symbolizing Boeing’s broken promises regarding safety.

Blumenthal criticized Calhoun and his team for deflecting blame and catering to shareholders rather than addressing the root causes of Boeing’s safety culture issues. Calhoun reassured the senators that improvements were being made, including sending more inspectors to Spirit AeroSystems and other partners. Earlier this year, the Justice Department said Boeing had violated a 2021 settlement struck in the wake of the deadly 737 Max incidents by failing to implement a required compliance and ethics program. It is unclear which specific violations had occurred.

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Two months before the January blowout incident, a letter to clients was sent out by Richard Aboulafia, managing director at AeroDynamic Advisory and a leading aerospace analyst, accused Calhoun of perpetuating “a dysfunctional culture” at Boeing.

“What’s Calhoun’s rationale for abolishing the company-wide strategy department? Cost-cutting is an obvious explanation,” Aboulafia wrote.

“The longer Calhoun stayed, the longer it would become clear that shareholder returns was his sole focus. At the four-year mark, that is all too dismally obvious,” Aboulafia said.

Whistleblower Concerns

The hearing also addressed Boeing’s treatment of whistleblowers. Several former employees testified about retaliation for raising safety concerns. Blumenthal mentioned John Barnett, a former Boeing employee who took his own life after raising quality concerns. Calhoun expressed heartbreak over Barnett’s death and insisted that Boeing takes employee concerns seriously.

Blumenthal remained skeptical, arguing that Boeing’s culture of passing down blame needed to change. He highlighted new whistleblower allegations from Sam Mohawk, a quality assurance inspector at Boeing. Mohawk claimed Boeing was cutting corners and using non-conforming parts in new airplanes, and he faced retaliation for raising these issues.

A Boeing spokesperson confirmed the receipt of documents related to Mohawk’s claims and stated that the company was reviewing them. The spokesperson emphasized Boeing’s commitment to encouraging employees to report concerns to ensure the safety of their airplanes and the flying public.

Why Whistleblower's Help in Aviation Accidents.

The Senate hearing highlighted the ongoing challenges Boeing faces in rebuilding its safety culture and restoring trust among its employees, customers, and the public. Calhoun’s apology to the families and his statements during the hearing were steps towards accountability, but the scrutiny and calls for significant changes within the company remain strong.

It’s also important to note the impact of people who step forward when they see negligence and wrong-doing. Whistleblowers play a vital role in policy changes and accountability. Statements can turn into empty promises if you don’t have people who are willing to put public safety above self interest. 

Our founding attorney George Fleming began his career at the Department of Justice representing the U.S. in major aviation disasters. With the experience gained, our law firm has handled aviation cases throughout the United States. If you were seriously injured in an aviation accident, or has witnessed negligence, you may be able to file a lawsuit to hold the people responsible accountable. Contact us today to speak with a member of our team to review your case information.

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