Aviation authorities around the world grounded the 737 MAX aircraft after two fatal accidents. Boeing teammates have been intensely focused on safely returning the 737 MAX fleet to service.
Interview by Junu Kim and Candace Barron, Boeing writers
Q. What goes through your mind when something like this happens, and how did you react?
A. Lives depend on what we do, whether it is our commercial airplanes delivering millions of passengers safely to their destinations every day, or men and women who use our defense systems to protect freedom. So these events strike at the core of who we are at Boeing and affect us all very deeply.
For me personally, I think about it all the time— even when I am engaged in some other activity, it is always there in the back of my mind.
At a time like this I have to return to the basics; let the facts and data lead us to the right answer, and then trust my team to implement that answer.
We are committed to preventing this type of accident from ever happening again. Every one of us at the company works hard every day to uphold our core values of safety and quality, and these recent events have reinforced and intensified this commitment.
Q. How do you think this episode will change Boeing’s processes?
A. Boeing has a strong problem-solving culture. There are a number of ongoing investigations that are getting to the root cause, and from there corrective actions will be identified and implemented. But I’ll say this: How the software was developed and certified for the MAX was no different than what we’ve done many times before, and we followed the same FAA requirements and processes that have governed certification of previous new airplanes and derivatives. No corners were cut and everyone was doing their jobs.
As we do with any accident, we’re going through a time for self-reflection, to see if there’s something we need to change. I can say this: Because we’re getting ready to fly another aircraft for the first time, our team is asking themselves, ‘What more do we need to do in the buildup to first flight? What questions do we need to ask? Do we have all our bases covered? Is there anything we haven’t thought of?’
For us as a learning organization, for our industry— as our industry learns from every accident— that’s what makes air travel the safest form of transportation today. We don’t want any accidents, so we will learn as much as we can, and we will change and improve.
Q. Will this ultimately change the company or its culture?
A. For everyone at Boeing, safety is No. 1. The safety, health and prosperity of the people our products touch—the flying public, the air crews, soldiers, astronauts, everyone—as well as our teammates who work every day to design and build our products are always our first priorities. Our heritage as a company is built on a foundation of quality and safety. That has not changed, and it will never change. That’s why our Boeing Engineering Code calls out the importance of safety and quality. We want to make it clear to everyone on our team that safety and quality are fundamental values that define who we are, what we do and what we believe in.
Q. It’s been reported that there was a safety feature in the MAX software that Boeing made optional for airline customers? Can you explain that?
A. On every airplane delivered to our customers, including the MAX, pilots are provided with all flight data and information needed to safely operate the aircraft.
The reports you’re referencing relate to the AOA (angle of attack) indicator option and the AOA disagree alert, neither of which are necessary for the safe operation of the airplane. They provide supplemental information only and have never been considered safety features on commercial airplanes.
The Boeing design requirements for the 737 MAX included the AOA disagree alert as a standard, standalone feature, but the flight display software delivered to Boeing linked the AOA disagree alert to the AOA indicator, which is an optional feature on both the MAX and the NG. As a result, the AOA disagree alert would be active only if an airline opted for the AOA indicator.
Boeing is issuing a display system software update to implement the AOA disagree alert as a standard, standalone feature before the MAX returns to service. When the MAX returns to service, all MAX production aircraft will have an activated and operable disagree alert and an optional angle of attack indicator. And all customers with previously delivered MAX airplanes will have the ability to activate the disagree alert.
Q. You’ve been with Boeing for almost 37 years and have seen your share of ups and downs. How does this period compare with previous challenges? And what thoughts do you have for people who are new to Boeing or are interested in joining the company?
A. This is the toughest time I’ve experienced in my career at Boeing. But I fundamentally believe we will get through this, thanks to the people on our team.
Our values like safety and quality are at the core of who we are, and that’s why I think the things we’re feeling this time are so broad and deep. But the company’s had tough times in the past, and we got through them. And we’ll get through this as well, because people trust us for who we are and what we stand for.
I’ve been on recent engineering test flights where the MAX demonstrated the software, and so have other Boeing leaders, including Dennis (Muilenburg). I felt completely safe, and I had no doubts at all about getting on board the airplane because I trust our people.
When I say I trust our products, what I really mean is that I trust our people because it’s people who put together those airplanes. It’s people who write that software. It’s people like procurement agents who write that spec that goes to the supplier that puts a part on that airplane. And I inherently trust our people do the right thing.
Q. There have been public suggestions that Boeing should rebrand the 737 MAX. What do you think about that?
A. We’re proud of the MAX, and there are no plans to change that name. We will certify and implement the software update, and the MAX will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.