U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Aviation Safety and the Future of Boeing’s 737 MAX,” at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 29, 2019. This hearing is intended to examine issues associated with the design, development, certification, and operation of the Boeing 737 MAX following two international accidents in the last year. The committee will first hear from Boeing on actions taken to improve safety and the company’s interaction with relevant federal regulators. The second panel will follow and be comprised of government officials and aviation experts to discuss the status of Boeing 737 MAX and relevant safety recommendations.
Witness Panel 1:
- Mr. Dennis Muilenburg, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Boeing Company, accompanied by:
- Mr. John Hamilton, Vice President and Chief Engineer, Boeing Commercial Airplanes
Witness Panel 2:
- The Honorable Robert Sumwalt, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
- The Honorable Christopher Hart, Chairman, Joint Authorities Technical Review
*Witness list subject to change
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman Roger Wicker
One year ago, today, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. All 189 people on board perished. Five months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 departed Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Just like Lion Air Flight 610, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 experienced problems shortly after takeoff and crashed. All 157 persons on board died. Both of these accidents were entirely preventable. We cannot fathom the pain experienced by the families of those 346 human beings who were lost. Many family members are here today and we appreciate their attendance and I appreciate many of you meeting with members of the committee over time. As chairman of this committee, I promise their loved ones that we are working to obtain a full answer as to how to prevent future tragedies. These families, deserve answers, accountability, and action -- and the public deserves no less.
The type of aircraft involved in both accidents is the 737 MAX 8 manufactured by Boeing. International aviation safety regulators began grounding the MAX the day after the Ethiopian crash. On March 13, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) formally grounded the aircraft in the United States. The MAX’s return to service is contingent on Boeing’s work with the FAA to test and certify fixes to the MCAS flight-control system, which activated during both crashes. In order for the MAX to return to service international regulators also need to be satisfied that it is safe to fly. As the certification process continues, many questions remain about Boeing’s actions and the FAA’s actions during the design, development, and certification processes, as well as the operation of the MAX.
Today’s hearing is divided into two panels. Let me note for senators that the committee will follow regular order of recognition for both panels – the five minute rule will be observed strictly because we have so many people who wish to participate.
On the first panel, Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing, will testify on behalf of the aircraft manufacturer. He is accompanied by John Hamilton, chief engineer for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, who will provide technical expertise.
Our second panel will examine these issues from the government’s perspective. The witnesses, today, include National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt, and Chairman of the Joint Authorities Technical Review – or JATR -- Chris Hart.
Chairman Sumwalt oversees the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which recently released a report and recommendations regarding the MAX certification. Chairman Hart led the JATR, an FAA-commissioned body that included the FAA, NASA, and nine foreign aviation safety authorities tasked with reviewing the MAX’s flight control systems. The JATR has submitted a broad range of recommendations to the FAA. Let me note that Chairman Hart has extensive past government service in aviation safety, but he is a private citizen, today, who agreed to lead the JATR.
We have many concerns that Boeing should address today. We need to know if Boeing and the FAA rushed to certify the MAX. In particular, critics have focused on the MCAS development and testing. The JATR criticized Boeing’s communication with the FAA on MCAS’s development, particularly after the system was modified to activate at lower airspeeds. The JATR also criticized the FAA for relying on outdated regulations, guidance, and certification procedures and failing to incorporate realistic human behavior factors into its assumptions. The NTSB also called into question Boeing's and FAA’s assumptions about pilot reaction during MCAS activation. These questions were especially important for stressful situations with multiple alerts going off in the cockpit.
Our witnesses should address the company and the safety regulators’ actions regarding MAX certification in general and MCAS in particular.
The process for certifying the MAX necessitated a close partnership between Boeing and the FAA. Under a decades-old system called Organization Designation Authorization -- or O-D-A -- the FAA has delegated certain certification activities to the ODA holder, in this case Boeing.
While the ODA has been used to certify many aircraft over the years, some have criticized the system for permitting an inappropriately close relationship between companies and their safety regulator. Indeed, email correspondence -- dating from as early as 2015 -- between the MAX’s former chief technical pilot, Mark Forkner, and FAA personnel released on October 18 reflect a disturbing level of casualness and flippancy that seem to corroborate these criticisms.
I was disappointed to learn of a November 2016 instant messenger conversation between Mr. Forkner and a colleague, in which he acknowledged misinforming the FAA. Boeing should have notified the FAA about that conversation immediately upon its discovery. Although the FAA is not testifying today, let me express my frustration with the agency’s lack of responsiveness to my requests dating back to April of this year for documents relevant to the 737 MAX as part of the investigation that I opened, as chairman, based on whistleblower disclosures.
The relationship between regulating agencies and organizations they regulate is important, but so are the internal reforms that Boeing is implementing.
Witnesses should provide their views on the ODA system and whether or not reforms are needed. I invite Mr. Muilenburg to describe the steps Boeing is taking to improve aviation safety and to ensure that technical experts never experience undue pressure to put profits and relationships ahead of safety.
The committee’s oversight is not limited to past actions. The reviews by both JATR and NTSB note that future aircraft systems are likely to be even more complex and interdependent than current models. Managing interfaces between humans and machines will become even more important as automation increases. At the same time, commercial aviation is set to continue expanding around the globe. Many future pilots will fly in countries without the same training requirements and safety standards that we have in the United States.
We welcome the witnesses’ thoughts on how to improve design, development, and certification in the future to account for these major changes.
This hearing will by no means be the end of our inquiry. Additional oversight hearings will be held. The committee will carefully review the final Lion Air report, which was released on Friday, as well as the Ethiopian Airlines report, which is forthcoming. The committee also will consider the findings and recommendations from JATR, NTSB, and all other investigations and reviews.
I now recognize the distinguished Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell, for her opening statement.
Senator Maria Cantwell
Opening Statement at Commerce Committee, Science & Transportation Hearing titled, “Aviation Safety and the Future of Boeing’s 737 MAX”
Witnesses: Mr. Dennis Muilenburg, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Boeing Company, accompanied by: Mr. John Hamilton, Vice President and Chief Engineer, Boeing Commercial Airplanes;
The Honorable Robert Sumwalt, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board;
The Honorable Christopher Hart, Chairman, Joint Authorities Technical Review
October 29, 2019
CANTWELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for this important hearing. I too want to take a moment and recognize the families who’ve lost loved ones in both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air tragedies, some of whom are here with us today. I can’t imagine the loss and the enduring pain that you must feel. I thank you for your vigilance on this issue, just as we have seen the families of the Colgan Air flight vigilance help us improve safety for the future.
Right now, Mr. Muilenburg, these families, millions of airline passengers, and over 150,000 aerospace workers want to know what we’re doing to fix what went wrong and what did go wrong. To date, we haven’t gotten all those answers. Hopefully today’s hearing will help provide some. But one thing is clear: if you want to be the leader in aviation manufacturing, you have to be the leader in aviation safety.
Aviation demand, especially for 737s and single-aisle planes is exploding to 101% growth over the next ten years – something like 35,000 planes and $3 trillion, I think it’s actually 20 years. But we cannot have a race for commercial airplanes become a race to the bottom when it comes to safety. The company, the board, cannot prioritize profits over safety. Safety always has to be job one. So it is troubling to hear that Boeing may have skirted the FAA certification process over a desire by airlines to have more fuel-efficient planes but without pilot training.
This issue of lowering standards is permeating through all of aviation. We’re dealing with it here in the committee. My democratic colleagues have led the charge to try to stop companies coming here to say they don’t want to have the same training for co-pilots on regional jets because they don’t have enough pilots. Or the issue my colleague has championed on rest requirements for cargo pilots having the same requirements for rest as passenger planes. Thank God Captain Sullenberger, the hero of the Hudson, made it clear: when you’re in an emergency, the pilot and co-pilot don’t have time, a lot of time, to communicate.
So that is why today we need answers to how the first 737 MAX certification was done. And we especially need transparency on this process of review before the 737 MAX is put in the air again. The public needs to know and fully understand what testing, what review, what processes were conducted both by Boeing and the FAA before this plane is put back in the air.
We also want to know today about Boeing’s safety culture – whether Boeing employees raised safety concerns that were not listened to, whether there was enough testing and complex system integration and information into a cockpit alert system that we now all know was flawed, and whether there was even enough data presented to the FAA. These are all questions that are important, including outsourcing of engineering and coding.
There are many questions about software and cockpit automation and overload. I guarantee you the FAA codes and laws are clear when it comes to the standards certification. Yes, software and automation, flight training, better rest requirements for pilots have all led to 10 years between 2009 and 2018 as the safest 10 years in aviation history. But, more software and more automation without robust third-party testing and validation will lead us to where we are today.
We should note that the last five aviation accidents have all involved automation and pilot response to automation. Whether it’s Lion Air, Ethiopian, the Asiana, the French, or Qantas 330 accidents, they were all in response to an automation in a command and response from the pilot.
So that is why, last week, I introduced legislation alongside my colleagues Senator Duckworth and Senator Blumenthal to implement the recommendations of the NTSB safety board and the Inspector General report on better safety management systems, better cockpit prioritization, and a new FAA Center of Excellence on flight automation and human factors.
The FAA needs the best engineers to understand the engineering challenges of the future and stay ahead on this human behavior response to new automation. We’re dealing – I see people here on the transportation, automobile side – it’s the same issue in advanced vehicles. What automation exists and how do humans respond to it? So I also look forward to hearing from Chairman Sumwalt and Chris Hart about their findings on improving the safety review process that we’ve included in this legislation.
I will just say again, our sorrows are nothing like the families who are with us today. But I do want to note that 737 MAX accidents have struck at the heart of everyone in the Northwest. Soon after the Ethiopian crash, a Seattle firefighter approached me and asked if I thought he could get a job at Boeing. He said, “I just want to go there and make sure we get the safety right.”
Everyone feels that way. Generations of workers in the Pacific Northwest have dedicated their lives to aviation excellence and safety, and that spirit lives on in Everett and Renton. So this isn’t a question about line workers. This is a question about the corporate view from Chicago, whether there is enough attention to manufacturing and certification. You should take offense to the fact that people say it’s a great company not being run correctly.
So for the 346 people who trusted Boeing without a second thought, we need to get this right. These families are counting on us.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Dennis MuilenburgPresident and Chief Executive OfficerThe Boeing Company
The Honorable Robert SumwaltChairmanNational Transportation Safety Board
The Honorable Christopher HartChairmanJoint Authorities Technical Review