US Senate committee to hold hearing on Boeing safety culture report

By Thomson Reuters Apr 11, 2024 | 8:36 PM

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee said on Thursday it would hold a hearing next week with members of an expert panel that released a report in February criticizing Boeing’s safety culture and calling for significant improvements.

The hearing next Wednesday comes as the U.S. planemaker has been grappling with a full-blown safety crisis that has undermined its reputation following a Jan. 5 mid-air panel blowout on a new 737 MAX 9. It has since undergone a management shakeup, U.S. regulators have put curbs on its production and its aircraft deliveries fell by half in March.

The committee will hear from three panel members, including Tracy Dillinger, a NASA expert on safety culture, Javier de Luis, an aeronautics expert at MIT, and Najmedin Meshkati, a University of Southern California professor and expert on aviation safety.

Senator Maria Cantwell, the committee chair, said on Wednesday she was impressed with the expert witness panel report and wanted to hear from members first before she called the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a future hearing.

Boeing declined to comment on the hearing.

The panel’s report was directed by Congress after fatal 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019 that killed 346 people, including panel member De Luis’ sister in the Ethiopian crash.

It criticized Boeing’s safety culture on a number of fronts and found “a lack of awareness of safety-related metrics at all levels of the organization.”

The panel also cited an “inadequate and confusing implementation of the components of a positive safety culture.”

The panel was appointed by the FAA in early 2023 and said that within six months Boeing should review the recommendations “and develop an action plan.”

The FAA in February ordered Boeing to address systemic quality-control issues within 90 days after an audit found fault with the company’s manufacturing processes.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will hear testimony later in the day next Wednesday from a Boeing whistleblower and company engineer Sam Salehpour who claims it dismissed safety and quality concerns in the production of 787 and 777 jets.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, the panel’s chair, said Salehpour will testify on what the senator called “Boeing’s broken safety culture.” Blumenthal has also asked outgoing CEO Dave Calhoun to testify at a future hearing.

Boeing responded this week to Salehpour, saying the company is fully confident in the 787, adding that the claims “are inaccurate and do not represent the comprehensive work Boeing has done to ensure the quality and long-term safety of the aircraft.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jamie Freed)