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Boeing's CEO testified on Capitol Hill and received a lot of criticism from lawmakers

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The head of troubled plane-maker Boeing was grilled on Capitol Hill yesterday.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, CEO Dave Calhoun testified in public for the first time since a door plug panel blew out of a 737 Max Jet in midair. That incident renewed deep concerns about Boeing's focus on quality control and safety.

FADEL: NPR's Joel Rose has been following all of this and joins us now. Good morning, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So this hearing has been a long time coming. What was it like?

ROSE: It started with a dramatic moment. Before his prepared remarks, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun turned around to face the gallery in the hearing room, and he offered an apology to the families of people who were killed in the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max jets in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people in total.

Some of those family members were in the room yesterday when Calhoun testified, holding up photographs of loved ones who died in the crashes. And many still want to see Boeing's leaders held accountable. Nadia Milleron lost her daughter, Samya Stumo, in the crash. She spoke to reporters before the hearing, and she said she believes Boeing and Calhoun are still putting profits ahead of safety.

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NADIA MILLERON: When they get pressed for time and they need to produce a lot of planes quickly, they throw all of their safety rubrics out the window. So it isn't about what he has in place. He does have everything in place. He just doesn't follow it.

FADEL: So what did Boeing's CEO have to say?

ROSE: Well, Calhoun said Boeing has heard these concerns about its safety culture, quote, "loud and clear." He talked about the detailed action plan that Boeing has given federal regulators, how it has slowed production of the 737, and other steps that the company is taking to try to shore up quality at its own factories and at its suppliers.

And Calhoun also talked about the loss of veteran employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that loss of experience has really hurt Boeing and its suppliers.

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DAVE CALHOUN: We turned over a lot of people - and, yes, a lot of experienced people. Our supply chain experienced enormous turnover. This - so much of this relates to an untrained workforce. I - it's all about that, honestly.

ROSE: Calhoun said the company is trying to ramp up training to get younger employees up to speed. Calhoun is himself leaving his job at the end of this year. No word yet on who will replace him as CEO.

FADEL: And how did senators react?

ROSE: Senators were very skeptical of Calhoun, I think on both sides of the aisle. They noted that Calhoun himself has gotten a big raise while most of his Boeing workforce has not. Here's Josh Hawley, a Republican Senator from Missouri.

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JOSH HAWLEY: I don't think the problem's with the employees. It's the C-suite. It's the management. It's what you've done to this company. That's where the problem is. The problem's at the top. And I just hope to God that you don't destroy this company before it can be saved.

ROSE: Senators also noted that Boeing's leaders have said a lot of these things before, after those two previous Max crashes. Senators said they wanted to see fewer promises and more action from the company.

FADEL: Now, Boeing could still face criminal prosecution. Where does that stand?

ROSE: This goes back to those crashes of two 737 Max jets more than five years ago. Boeing struck a deal with the Justice Department to avoid prosecution for misleading regulators about the safety of those planes. Basically, the company was put on probation for three years. Family members of the crash victims have long criticized that as a sweetheart deal, and they want to see Boeing's leaders held accountable.

Federal prosecutors now say Boeing has not held up its end of that deal. They are expected to announce soon what they're going to do next, whether they will take Boeing to court or just extend its probation.

FADEL: That's NPR transportation correspondent Joel Rose. Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.