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In a heated exchange, senators questioned Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun on the company’s safety record, mounting whistleblower allegations, and his pay.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun was questioned by senators on Tuesday over a host of issues, ranging from mounting whistleblower allegations to his own pay. 

Calhoun, who is set to step down as CEO at the end of year, started the hearing by apologizing to the families of victims of the fatal 737 Max 8 crashes from 2018 and 2019.

“I would like to apologize,” Calhoun said at the hearing. “On behalf of all of our Boeing associates spread throughout the world.”

The Justice Department is determining whether to prosecute Boeing over the fatal crashes after finding that the plane maker violated the terms of a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement. It’s unclear whether the Alaska Airlines blowout incident with a Max 9 could have violated the agreement, since it took place days before the agreement expired. 

Senator Richard Blumenthal, the chair of the Senate subcommittee on investigations, said Boeing had a “broken safety culture.” 

When asked about new whistleblower claims, Calhoun said, “Something went wrong.” Calhoun added that some whistleblowers had been fired in the past as retaliation, but didn’t offer any specifics, citing privacy concerns. 

A New Whistleblower Comes Forward

Hours before the hearing took place, the Senate subcommittee released a report detailing the allegations of one of the whistleblowers. 

Sam Mohawk, a quality assurance investigator based in Boeing’s Renton, Washington factory, alleged that the company was not properly tracking damaged parts and that parts did not meet standards for the 737. In a complaint filed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Mohawk feared that those parts “were being installed on the 737s and could lead to a catastrophic event.”

Mohawk also alleged that Boeing sought to hide those parts from the Federal Aviation Administration during an on-site inspection, according to the OSHA complaint.

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Testy Exchange

One of the most heated moments in the hearing was when Senator Josh Hawley told Calhoun that he was “strip mining” Boeing for profits. “Why haven’t you resigned?” Hawley repeatedly asked Calhoun. 

Calhoun was awarded $32.7 million in pay for 2023. 

Calhoun tried to fend off Hawley’s criticism, saying he was proud of his tenure at Boeing. He took over as CEO shortly after the Max 8 crashes killed a total of 346 people.  

“I’m proud of having taken the job,” Calhoun said in response to Hawley. “I’m proud of our safety record. And I am very proud of our Boeing people.”

“Frankly, sir, I think it’s a travesty that you’re still in your job,” Hawley said. 

Blumenthal also had some choice words for Boeing. 

“Boeing needs to stop thinking about the next earnings call and start thinking about the next generation,” he said. “We’re here because we want Boeing to succeed.”

In another exchange, Blumenthal held up sheets of data he received from Boeing, describing it as “gobbledygook.”

“I would describe it precisely as you did, and I can’t justify it and I will most definitely follow up,” Calhoun said. 

Boeing Tries to Turn Around

Ever since a door plug blew off an Alaska Max 9, Boeing has been implementing some changes to improve its production and quality control. 

After the FAA grounded the Max 9 in January, the agency also halted Boeing from expanding the production of the 737. So far, Boeing has been operating below the FAA-enforced cap and isn’t planning to increase 737 production in the near future. 

The FAA is also more involved with Boeing’s production. FAA chief Mike Whitaker said the agency was “too hands off” with Boeing before the Alaska incident. Now, the FAA is adding more inspections in its oversight of Boeing.   

Part of Boeing’s plan includes not accepting any fuselages from its supplier, Spirit Aerosystems, that aren’t up to standard. The plane maker is currently trying to acquire Spirit Aerosystems, arguing that combining operations would improve quality. 

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Photo credit: A Boeing Max 9 parked outside the Renton, Washington factory. Boeing Boeing

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