Boeing CEO pledges to own up to ‘mistake’ after midair incident

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A Boeing 737 Max 9 jetliner. (Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

Boeing’s chief executive told employees during a company meeting Tuesday that the aerospace giant will acknowledge its “mistake” and be transparent as it attempts to move forward after the grounding of dozens of its 737 Max 9 aircraft over safety concerns.

“We’re going to approach this No. 1 acknowledging our mistake,” Dave Calhoun said, according to excerpts provided by the company. “We’re going to approach it with 100% and complete transparency every step of the way.”

Calhoun’s remarks come days after a portion of an Alaska Airlines plane blew out in midair shortly after takeoff from Portland International Airport on Friday. The incident led the Federal Aviation Administration to order 171 aircraft out of operation, none of which have yet been cleared to resume service.

Federal investigators seeking a cause for the blowout are intensifying their scrutiny of bolts meant to hold in place the piece of the aircraft that detached during the flight. Alaska and United airlines also disclosed this week that technicians found loose hardware in preliminary assessments of the same sections on the same type of aircraft in their fleets.

Those revelations have raised concerns that issues with the part, called a door plug, may be more widespread on Max 9 jets. The models are assembled jointly by Boeing and Kansas-based Spirit AeroSystems.

There is no timeline for when the FAA may lift the grounding of the Max 9 jets. Formal inspections of the jetliners were expected to begin Monday, but carriers said they are now on hold as Boeing and the FAA continue to work on final details.

“The safety of the flying public, not speed, will determine the timeline for returning the Boeing 737-9 Max to service,” the FAA said in a statement.

Meanwhile, after examining the door plug recovered from the yard of a Portland science teacher, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board offered preliminary clues about what might have gone wrong on the flight.

Investigators said that guide tracks on the Alaska Airlines door plug were fractured, and that so far they have been unable to recover four bolts designed to keep the plug from moving upward in a motion that would normally disengage it.

It is unclear whether the four bolts were absent at the start of the flight Friday or if they went missing after the accident, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said. The door plug on the right side of the plane, which remained intact, had no discrepancies or missing parts, she added.

Calhoun said Boeing was cooperating with the NTSB, which is leading the investigation of Friday’s accident over Portland, and the FAA, which is overseeing the inspections of the grounded aircraft.

“I trust every step they take, and they will get to a conclusion,” Calhoun said of the NTSB.

He acknowledged the FAA “has to now deal with airline customers who want airplanes back in service safely and to ensure all the procedures are put into place, inspections, all the readiness actions that are required to ensure every next airplane that moves into the sky is in fact safe and that this event can never happen again.”

Calhoun made his remarks at the Renton, Washington, factory north of Seattle on Tuesday at an all-employee meeting, with some joining in person and others virtually.

As the only major aircraft-maker in the United States and one of only two major manufacturers globally, Boeing has sway in Washington. . But the company has struggled to rebuild its reputation since a separate model of the Max was grounded after two crashes killed 346 people several years ago. Investigations at the time revealed problems with the design of an automated system on that plane, flaws that had not been fully disclosed to the FAA.

Some senators are calling for more scrutiny of the company. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Congress should investigate.

“We can’t tolerate these safety problems with one of our most popular planes,” he said.

In a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut wrote: “This disturbing event is another black mark for Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft fleet and troublingly, appears to be part of a wider pattern.”

Boeing’s Calhoun said the company will work with the NTSB to determine the cause of the accident.

“When I got that picture,” he said during the employee meeting, referring to a photo of the damaged jetliner, “all I could think about—I didn’t know what happened to whoever was supposed to be in the seat next to that hole in the airplane. I’ve got kids, I’ve got grandkids and so do you. This stuff matters. Every detail matters.”

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