Boeing forms board committee on safety in wake of deadly MAX crashes

Embattled manufacturer tries to beat back claims it put people over profit and rushed the 737 MAX into service


Boeing announced on 25 September that it was forming a board-level safety committee led by a retired Navy admiral as a way to “reaffirm” the company’s “commitment to safety”. The company also said a special “independent” group that had been set up in the wake of the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 737 MAX crashes, which killed 346 people, had made several recommendations to change the way it builds planes.

Dennis Muilenburg, CEO

Boeing’s chairman, president and CEO Dennis Muilenburg and the company’s board of directors said the company was creating “a permanent Aerospace Safety Committee” of the board of directors, a move that was approved in August. “The committee’s primary responsibility is to oversee and ensure the safe design, development, manufacture, production, operation, maintenance and delivery of the company’s aerospace products and services,” Boeing said in announcing the group’s formation.

Edmund Giambastiani
Lynn Good
Lawrence Kellner

The company said board member Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, Jr, (Ret.), former vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a career nuclear-trained submarine officer, was appointed chairman of the Aerospace Safety Committee. The board also appointed to the committee current Boeing Board members Lynn Good, chairman, president and CEO, Duke Energy Corporation, and Lawrence Kellner, president, Emerald Creek Group and former chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines. “These board members each have extensive experience leading companies and organisations in regulated industries and government entities where safety is paramount.

The move comes after Boeing – and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – have faced mounting criticism that Boeing cared more about its profits by rushing the 737 MAX into service to compete against the Airbus A320 and for not disclosing a flight control programme known as MCAS to the commercial pilots tasked with safely flying the plane.

A recent article in The New Republic called the 737 MAX “the world’s first self-hijacking plane” and said Boeing “produced a plane outfitted with a half-assed bit of software programmed to override all pilot input and nosedive when a little vane on the side of the fuselage told it the nose was pitching up. The vane was also not terribly reliable, possibly due to assembly line lapses reported by a whistle-blower, and when the plane processed the bad data it received, it promptly” crashed.

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Perhaps more tellingly, while Boeing has said its CEO has flown on test flights of a revamped MAX, a spokesman declined to say whether any other board members – or members of the special legal team set up to handle all MAX litigation – had flown on the test flights. So it appears the board and lawyers fighting claims again Boeing are asking people to risk their lives on the plane, but are unwilling to do the same.

The 737 MAX crashes have already cost Boeing billions of dollars in lost or delayed sales, compensation paid to airlines for the planes being grounded and compensation to victims of the two crashes.

In addition to setting up the board safety committee, Boeing said it has “amended the company’s Governance Principles to include safety-related experience as one of the criteria it will consider in choosing future directors”.

The board also announced it has adopted several recommendations from the five-month review of the company’s policies and processes for airplane design and development by the Committee on Airplane Policies and Processes, which was formed in April 2019 following the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 737 MAX accidents.

Those recommendations include, in Boeing’s words:

  1. Create a Product and Services Safety organisation: The board recommends that a new Product and Services Safety organisation be created and report directly to senior company leadership and the board’s Aerospace Safety Committee. The organisation’s responsibilities would include reviewing all aspects of product safety, including investigating cases of undue pressure and anonymous product and service safety concerns raised by employees. The organisation also would maintain oversight of the company’s Accident Investigation Team and the company’s safety review boards. The committee believes the work of this organisation should increase awareness and reporting of, and accountability for, safety issues within the company, further improving enterprise-wide product and services safety. It is recommended that the enterprise Organisation Designation Authorisation, the company’s engineering and technical experts who represent the Federal Aviation Administration in airplane certification activities, report to the Product and Services Safety organisation and vice president for Product and Services Safety. The board further recommends that the Accident Investigation Team as well as the teams responsible for military aircraft certification and mission assurance for space and launch systems report to the vice president for Product and Services Safety.
  2. Realign the Engineering function: The board recommends that engineers throughout Boeing, including the new Product and Services Safety organisation, report directly to the chief engineer, who in turn reports directly to the company’s chief executive officer. The company’s chief engineer should focus his or her attention primarily on the Engineering function and the related needs of the company, supported by a senior leader who is responsible for developing, implementing and integrating new technology, tools, processes and digital systems. The board believes the recommended realignment would strengthen the company’s Engineering function, promote continued companywide focus on customer, business unit and operational priorities, and result in an even greater emphasis on safety.
  3. Establish a Design Requirements Programme: The board recommends that the realigned Engineering function create a formal Design Requirements Programme that would incorporate historical design materials, data and information, best practices, lessons learned and detailed after-action reports. The board believes this will reinforce Boeing’s commitment to continuous improvement and a culture of learning and innovation.
  4. Enhance the Continued Operation Safety Programme: The board recommends that the company amend its Continued Operation Safety Programme to require all safety and potential safety reports be provided to the chief engineer for his or her review. This requirement would increase transparency and ensure safety reports from all levels of the company are reviewed by senior management.
  5. Re-examine flight deck design and operation: The board recommends that Boeing partner with its airline customers and others in the industry to re-examine assumptions around flight deck design and operation. Design assumptions have evolved over time, and the company should ensure flight deck designs continue to anticipate the needs of the changing demographics and future pilot populations. Additionally, the company should work with all aviation stakeholders to advise and recommend general pilot training, methods and curricula – where warranted, above and beyond those recommended in a traditional training programme – for all commercial aircraft manufactured by the company.
  6. Expand the role and reach of the Safety Promotion Centre: The board recommends that the Safety Promotion Centre’s role and reach be extended beyond Boeing’s engineering and manufacturing communities to the company’s global network of employees, factories, facilities and offices. This expansion would serve to reinforce Boeing’s longstanding safety culture and remind employees and the flying public of the company’s unyielding commitment to safety, quality and integrity. “The safety of the global aviation industry is rooted in its dedication to continuous improvement and learning,” said Giambastiani, former chairman of the Committee of Airplane Policies and Processes and newly-appointed chairman of the Aerospace Safety Committee. “The independent committee review was extensive, rigorous and focused on delivering specific recommendations to ensure the highest levels of safety in Boeing airplanes and aerospace products and services and for all who fly on Boeing airplanes,” Giambastiani added. “The committee and the board believe these recommendations, along with actions already taken by the board, will strengthen engineering at the company, bolster the safety policies and procedures for the design, development and production of Boeing products and services, and further improve board and management oversight and accountability for safety not only at Boeing, but throughout the global aerospace industry.”

The board’s recommendations are currently being addressed by Muilenburg and senior company leadership, and it is expected the company soon will announce specific actions that will be taken in response to the board’s independent work.


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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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