Richard Vigal awoke at 3 a.m. to drive several hours from his home in Vancouver, Washington, to a Boeing retiree event held this week in Renton, Washington.
It is the third year Boeing has hosted a retiree event in Washington state, and the second time he’s attended. But this year, Vigal, who retired in 1990 after 34 years with the company, was especially eager to make the early morning reveille and lengthy road trip.
The 737 MAX was the topic of this year’s gathering.
Vigal and others among the approximately 400 Puget Sound-region retirees in attendance prepared to listen as John Hamilton, Commercial Airplanes vice president of Engineering and chief engineer, updated them on the airplane and plans for its safe return to service. Vigal and others said they have followed media reports, and acknowledge they still feel a personal stake in the company.
“I’ve felt in the dark about MAX,” said Vigal. “So I’m eager to hear what’s said by our Boeing experts.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many others at the event, including Ray Craig, a retired 737 test pilot.
“This situation is so personal,” he said, blinking back emotion. “The majority of my career at Boeing has been dedicated to the 737. It’s really important to me that the company is keeping me looped in.”
Hamilton spent nearly an hour walking retirees through the 737 MAX timeline, explaining the changes and improvements proposed to regulators, and strongly re-emphasizing Boeing’s commitment to safety.
“I’m confident that the work we have done we will eliminate pilots from being in those conditions again,” Hamilton said, referring to the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accidents. “We’ve addressed the concerns that have been identified and are staying engaged with customers and regulatory authorities. We will continue to raise the bar on safety.”
Norma and Richard Vaughn, who together spent nearly 60 years at Boeing before retiring in 1993, took a front row table to listen to Hamilton. The couple, who now are active in the Bluebills, a Boeing retiree group, said they were grateful that Boeing continues to engage with them and their fellow retirees.
The information they learned now will help them continue to advocate for Boeing to friends and family, they said.
“I’ve always liked Boeing because the company has been so good to us,” Norma Vaughn said. “Boeing allowed us to raise four children and it is still supporting us. So we want to support Boeing in return.”
Ray Craig said the information made him feel more comfortable.
“I understand the bigger picture now and some of the timeline,” he said. “And this reaffirmed that Boeing is doing the right thing and that safety is still paramount.”
By Deborah Feldman