Boeing CEO apologizes to families of 737 Max crash victims during Senate panel testimony

Boeing’s chief executive is testifying before a Senate panel where he's facing questioning over safety issues and manufacturing problems with the plane maker.

Before giving his prepared opening statement, CEO David Calhoun stood and faced the people in the audience holding poster-sized photos of some of the 346 people who died in the 2018 and 2019 crashes.

"I apologize for the grief that we have caused," he said.

The families of victims who died in the 2018 and 2019 crashes of 737 Max jetliners appeared at the hearing on Capitol Hill. The families have pressured the Justice Department repeatedly to prosecute Boeing.

RELATED: Boeing faces charges for violating settlement post 737 Max crashes


Relatives of Boeing airplane crash victims demonstrate before Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun (front) and Boeing Chief Engineer Howard McKenzie testify during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Investigations Subcommi

"From the beginning, we took responsibility and cooperated transparently with the NTSB and the FAA," Calhoun said in remarks prepared for the hearing. He defended the company’s safety culture, the Associated Press reported. 

"Our culture is far from perfect, but we are taking action and making progress," Calhoun said in the prepared remarks. "We are taking comprehensive action today to strengthen safety and quality."

Calhoun grilled by Sen. Hawley during the hearing

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., repeatedly asked Calhoun about what he did to deserve his massive salary. Calhoun, who announced his plans to retire at the end of the year, earned $32.8 million in compensation in 2023, the AP noted. 

"You’re focused on exactly what you were hired to do, which is that you’re cutting corners. You are eliminating safety procedures. You are sticking it to your employees. You are cutting back jobs because you’re trying to squeeze every piece of profit you can out of this company," Hawley said, his voice rising. "You’re strip-mining it. You’re strip-mining Boeing."

Asked by Hawley why he had not resigned, Calhoun answered: "Senator I’m sticking this through. I’m proud of having taken the job. I’m proud of our safety record. And I am very proud of our Boeing people."

Hawley interrupted. "You’re proud of the safety record?" he asked with disbelief.

Calhoun responded, "I am proud of every action we’ve taken."

Hawley fired back saying, "Frankly sir, I think it’s a travesty that you’re still in your job."

Calhoun appeared before the Senate investigations committee on Tuesday, marking his first appearance before Congress by Calhoun since a panel blew out of a 737 Max during an Alaska Airlines flight in January. There were no serious injuries in the incident, but it renewed worries about Boeing's best-selling commercial aircraft.

Hours before Calhoun arrived at Capitol Hill, the Senate panel released a 204-page report with new allegations from a whistleblower who said he worries that "nonconforming" parts — ones that could be defective or aren't properly documented — are going into 737 Max jets.

Sam Mohawk, a quality assurance investigator at the 737 assembly plant near Seattle, alleges Boeing concealed evidence of the situation after the Federal Aviation Administration informed the company a year ago that it would inspect the plant.

RELATED: Boeing ordered to be arraigned on felony charge in crashes of two 737 MAX planes

A Boeing spokesperson told the Associated Press that the company got the subcommittee report late Monday night and was reviewing the claims. "We continuously encourage employees to report all concerns as our priority is to ensure the safety of our airplanes and the flying public," the spokesperson said.

The Senate subcommittee said that newly uncovered documents and whistleblower accounts "paint a troubling picture of a company that prioritizes speed of manufacturing and cutting costs over ensuring the quality and safety of aircraft."

Boeing was reeling from deadly 737 Max aircraft crashes in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia. In May, the Justice Department said Boeing violated a settlement that allowed the company to avoid criminal prosecution after the deadly crashes.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who chairs the Senate investigations committee, first asked Calhoun to appear before the committee after a whistleblower, a Boeing quality engineer, alleged that manufacturing mistakes were raising safety risks on two of the biggest Boeing planes, the 787 Dreamliner and the 777. He said the company needed to explain why the public should be confident about Boeing’s work.

Boeing challenged Mohawk's allegations, stating that extensive testing and inspections showed none of the problems the engineer had predicted.

Prosecutors have until July 7 to decide what to do next. Blumenthal said at the start of Tuesday's hearing that he thinks the DOJ should prosecute Boeing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.  This story was reported from Washington, D.C.