Cantwell Presses Boeing CEO on 737 MAX Testing, Disclosures to FAA

October 29, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the committee, pressed Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on the company’s work developing and testing the 737 MAX, as well as its disclosures to the FAA about issues with the plane’s MCAS system. 

“Was Boeing aware of the defects in the MCAS system, which it failed to disclose to the FAA at the time the aircraft was in development and certification?” Cantwell asked Muilenburg. 

In a follow-up question, Cantwell pressed Muilenburg on reports that a pilot working on the MAX had raised concerns about the performance of the MCAS system in messages to colleagues in 2016. 

“Do you know what Mr. Forkner is referring to when he says ‘unknowingly lied to the FAA’ or ‘Jedi mind-tricking?’” 

When Muilenburg responded that Boeing had been unable to speak to Forkner about what he meant, Cantwell cut in: 

“Here’s my concern: if you don’t know what he meant, then you also don’t know what wasn’t disclosed. And so we don’t know if there are things in the MCAS system that were defects, that he or someone else knew about, that weren’t disclosed.” 

Cantwell continued by pressing Muilenburg and John Hamilton, the Vice President and Chief Engineer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, about various aspects of the company’s testing of the MCAS system during the development of the 737 MAX. 

“Did you test the reliability of the AoA sensors in general? Did you test the reliability on a single sensor? Did you consult with the pilots on the lack of guidance on MCAS in the flight manuals? Did you test the AoA sensors’ degree alert to ensure reliability? Did you test the human factor response? These are all things from the Lion Air report, and my guess is you didn’t test those. And that’s at the heart of this. But if you did, and you have data on that, and would provide it to the FAA, that’s what we want to see.” 

Last week, Senator Cantwell introduced new legislation to implement aviation safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (DOT IG), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to address challenges related to increased automation in commercial aircraft cockpits, as well as how pilots respond to flight deck alerts and uncommanded flight control inputs. It is the first in a series of bills Cantwell plans to introduce to implement recommendations from federal safety agencies reviewing the crashes and plane certification process. 

Video from Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with the witnesses from Boeing is available HERE, and audio is HERE.

A transcript of the Q&A is available HERE.