Fri. May 24th, 2024

Boeing braces for back-to-back Senate hearings scrutinizing ‘broken safety culture’

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson May21,2024

Two Senate committees will scrutinize Boeing’s safety culture and new whistleblower allegations Wednesday as the company remains under a microscope.

Boeing was thrust into the spotlight in January after the door plug on one of the airline giant’s 737 Max 9 planes flew off shortly after an Alaska Airlines flight took off.

No passengers died, but Boeing, once unimpeachable in Washington, is now facing multiple investigations from regulators and lawmakers.

While the senators are digging into recent Boeing safety failures during two back-to-back hearings, no one from the company is expected to make an appearance.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations invited Boeing CEO David Calhoun to testify on the company’s “broken safety culture” alongside a whistleblower, who raised new allegations of safety concerns and corporate retaliation.

But the embattled executive, who announced last month he would step down by the end of the year, has not committed to appear and is not included on the witness list.

“Tomorrow’s hearing is going to surface some really shocking allegations about failures and safety practices and culture and light and retaliation that should shock the conscience of corporations as well as Americans,” subcommittee Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told The Hill.

“The whistleblower will have the guts to show up, and I’m hoping that Dave Calhoun will as well at some point in the future, if not tomorrow,” the senator added.

The whistleblower is Sam Salehpour, a quality engineer at Boeing. Salehpour told The New York Times, which first reported the complaint last week, that sections of the 787 Dreamliner fuselage were not connected properly and could break during flight after being worn down over time.

“The entire fleet worldwide, as far as I’m concerned right now, needs attention,” Salehpour told NBC News. “And the attention is, you need to check your gaps and make sure that you don’t have potential for premature failure.”

Salehpour’s lawyer said he was sidelined, excluded and threatened after he raised concerns that “Boeing had begun taking shortcuts” to “reduce bottlenecks in the production of 787s” that could result in “premature fatigue failure without any warning, thus creating unsafe conditions for the aircraft with potentially catastrophic accidents and passenger fatalities,” according to a letter from Blumenthal and ranking member Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to Calhoun last month.

“Boeing understands the important oversight responsibilities of the Subcommittee and we are cooperating with this inquiry. We have offered to provide documents, testimony, and technical briefings, and are in discussions with the Subcommittee regarding next steps,” a Boeing spokesperson told The Hill.

The Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is also holding its own hearing Wednesday morning. The Commerce hearing kicks off at 10 a.m. EDT, while the subcommittee hearing starts at 11:15 a.m.

Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and ranking member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have invited a panel of aviation experts who released a report in February that criticized Boeing’s “inadequate” and “confusing” safety culture and called for major changes.

“The procedures and training are complex and in a constant state of change, creating employee confusion especially among different work sites and employee groups,” the report states. The experts also said they found “a lack of awareness of safety-related metrics” across all levels of the company.

The report laid out 50 recommendations to improve safety at Boeing and advised the company to come up with a plan to address the issues within six months to share with the FAA, which is also investigating the company. The hearing will delve into those findings and recommendations.

Both senators have signaled their willingness to ramp up oversight of the airline giant, and the hearings will likely shape any potential moves.

While no one from Boeing is expected to testify at the hearings, they have been highly engaged on Capitol Hill. Boeing told The Hill it has reached out to all 535 members of Congress at least twice since the Alaska Airlines incident in January, plus “additional rounds of outreach to Senate Commerce Committee offices, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee offices, and other priority offices.”

Boeing has leaned on its sprawling network of in-house lobbyists and hired guns as the company navigates those relationships. Boeing poured more than $14.4 million into federal lobbying efforts last year and employed more than 100 lobbyists across 17 firms, including five former members of Congress.

Lobbying disclosures for the first quarter of 2024, which will cover the period following the accident, are due Saturday. The new report will detail the various issues and agencies Boeing lobbied in the wake of the accident, as well as how much the airline giant spent on those activities.

Boeing still rakes in billions of dollars in government contracts each year and has a robust commercial operation. But recent high-profile accidents — including fatal 737 Max 8 crashes in 2018 and 2019 — raise questions about the future of the iconic brand.

Earlier this month, Boeing paid Alaska Airlines $160 million in compensation for the January blowout that grounded 737 Max 9 planes across the country. Several passengers have also sued Boeing and Alaska Airlines over the incident.

Last month, the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into Boeing after the company was unable to locate records requested by the National Transportation Safety Board related to work done on the door plug of the 737 Max 9 plane ahead of the Alaska Airlines accident.

Boeing has insisted it is committed to being “as transparent as possible” while focusing “on safety and on quality.” But with no Boeing representatives expected to testify before the committees Wednesday, the clarity lawmakers are seeking may be limited, at least for now.

“It probably won’t be tomorrow, but at some point in the future, we’re going to hear from Boeing,” Blumenthal said, adding there is “clear and convincing evidence that Boeing has failed in safety practices and culture and that it has retaliated very reprehensibly against employees who are making legitimate complaints.”

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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2 thoughts on “Boeing braces for back-to-back Senate hearings scrutinizing ‘broken safety culture’”
  1. Boeing’s safety culture seems to have crumbled, and the recent failures are alarming. It’s concerning that no one from the company is willing to face this scrutiny. The whistleblower’s courage is commendable, but it’s disappointing that the CEO hasn’t committed to taking responsibility. Tomorrow’s hearing is expected to reveal shocking truths that must not be ignored.

  2. Boeing’s safety culture has been called into question, and as highlighted in the article, the recent incidents have created a ripple effect of investigations and scrutiny. It’s imperative for accountability and transparency to be at the forefront of addressing these concerns.

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