Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg met on Tuesday with more than a dozen family members of victims killed in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the second of two fatal 737 Max crashes that led to a worldwide grounding of the plane type.
The meeting between the family members — who have largely assumed roles as aviation safety advocates in the wake of the crash — and Muilenburg came after the executive spent more than two hours testifying in front of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.
During the hearing — which came a year to the day after the first crash, Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia — Muilenburg admitted that Boeing had made mistakes, and expressed sympathy for the victims. However, the sympathy left some family members sitting in the gallery feeling put out — they felt it was performative, made for the cameras, rather than them.
"It was a good show, but his back was to us, and he never looked at us," Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya Stumo was killed in the Ethiopian crash, told Business Insider.
Samya's mother expressed similar frustrations at the end of the hearing itself, as Muilenburg exited the chamber. "Turn around and look at people when you say you're sorry," she said, prompting Muilenburg to turn and meet her eye before saying, "I'm sorry."
During the private meeting with family members later in the afternoon, Muilenburg offered an apology that Stumo characterized as more satisfactory and appropriate.
"He did his best to remedy that, talking with all of us privately in that meeting," he said.
The meeting, which took place at the Cannon House Office Building, began with a rearranging of chairs, according to Stumo. When families arrived early for the meeting, they found the conference room arranged "theater-style, or classroom-style," Stumo said, with a table up front for Muilenburg and chairs throughout the room facing it.
"We didn't need to be sitting and listening to him like that," Stumo said, "so we immediately went arranged the chairs in a circle."
Muilenburg arrived shortly after.
"He came in and greeted everyone," Chris Moore, whose daughter Danielle was also killed in the second crash, said. "He walked around the room, and everyone had a chance to tell him about their loved ones and how important they were, so he could understand the human perspective."
The meeting was originally supposed to be a half-hour, but ended up lasting more than an hour and 20 minutes, Stumo said.
At times, things were tense.
"It was quite heated at some times," Moore said. "Of course there's a lot of anger that we have directed at Boeing, and he took it."
"It was tense, it was emotional," Stumo added. "There was a lot of anger at him for their actions and inactions."
Muilenburg and the families, many of whom have become well-versed in the technical aspects of the 737 Max's flaws, discussed a range of topics, including why the plane wasn't grounded after the first crash, and what Boeing is doing to get it cleared to fly again.
"We want to make sure that everyone gets it right this time so there's no third crash," Moore said. "And it's not just about whether it's safe; it's about how we can know it's safe."
"We said we'd trust what Boeing is doing if they disclose the Max fixes publicly, so we and third-party experts can validate that it's safe, not just the FAA," Stumo said. "He said he would work to do that."
"If Boeing wants to build public trust, let public validation occur."
While both Stumo and Moore said that the meeting was a positive step, it wasn't enough to assure them that all will be well — nor that the accountability they've sought will be handed out.
"He should resign," Stumo said. "Boeing can change internal personnel or structure, but they need to be more supportive of regulatory changes, too, with a safety culture insulated from the profit culture."
Muilenburg is scheduled to testify before a House transportation committee panel on Wednesday.