Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is set to testify in front of Congress this week, exactly one year after the first crash involving the company's newest plane, the 737 Max.
Muilenburg's appearances on Tuesday and Wednesday — first before the Senate Commerce Committee, followed by the House Transportation committee — will be his first public testimony since each of the two jets crashed in October 2018 and in March. Each flight crashed within minutes of taking off. A combined 346 people were killed.
Lawmakers are expected to pepper Muilenburg with questions about Boeing's design and certification of the jet, particularly an automated system, MCAS, that has been faulted for both crashes.
"There's going to be quite a bit of anger expressed at him," Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington, whose district includes numerous Boeing employees, said to The Wall Street Journal. "It's going to be a long day—probably longer for Boeing than it will be for the committee."
On Tuesday — the anniversary of the first crash, Lion Air flight 610 in Indonesia — Muilenburg and John Hamilton, the chief engineer in Boeing's commercial airplane division, will testify at a Senate hearing titled "Aviation Safety and the Future of Boeing's 737 Max." Later in the day, representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Joint Authorities Technical Review — an international panel which investigated the FAA's actions to certify the 737 Max — will also testify.
On Wednesday, Muilenburg and Hamilton will appear at a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing: "The Boeing 737 MAX: Examining the Design, Development, and Marketing of the Aircraft."
About 20 family members of victims from the second crash — Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 — are expected to be in attendance. A representative for Clifford Law Offices, which is representing the families, said there are plans for them to meet with Muilenburg on Wednesday.
The hearings come as Boeing has faced increasing criticism for its design and process of certifying the jet. The FAA has also been criticized for lax oversight of the planemaker.
Recent developments, including the release of internal messages suggesting Boeing may have known about issues with the automated system, as well as renewed scrutiny of a 2018 law granting plane makers more independence from the FAA when certifying new planes, are likely to be raised.
In his opening statement for Tuesday's testimony — released Monday afternoon by Boeing following reporting by Reuters — Muilenburg will acknowledge the automated system's roles in the crashes, and describe efforts to prevent future accidents when the plane is eventually recertified.
"We have developed robust software improvements that will, among other things, ensure MCAS cannot be activated based on signals from a single sensor, and cannot be activated repeatedly," the written testimony says. "We are also making additional changes to the 737 MAX's flight control software to eliminate the possibility of even extremely unlikely risks that are unrelated to the accidents."
You can read the full testimony below.
The 737 Max has been grounded since March, following the second of two fatal crashes in five months.
Preliminary reports about the two crashes, Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, indicated that the MCAS — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System — erroneously engaged and forced the planes' noses to point down because of a problem with the design of the system's software. Pilots were unable to regain control of the aircraft.
The system could be activated by a single sensor reading — in both crashes, the sensors are thought to have failed, sending erroneous data to the flight computer and, without a redundant check in place, triggering the automated system.
MCAS was designed to compensate for the 737 Max having larger engines than previous 737 generations. The larger engines could cause the plane's nose to tip upward, leading to a stall — in that situation, MCAS could automatically point the nose down to negate the effect of the engine size.
Boeing is aiming to submit a proposed fix to the FAA and get the plane certified to fly again by the end of 2019. US airlines have pulled the jet from their schedules until at least January.