Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun denies culture of retaliation against whistleblowers at Senate hearing

Embattled Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun spent two hours Tuesday trying to persuade largely skeptical senators that the embattled plane maker had been committed to safety since a pair of deadly crashes six years ago.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers grilled Calhoun at a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing over a series of in-flight mishaps that have plagued the company this year — the latest safety lapses since a pair of crashes in 2018 and 2019 they killed almost 350 people. .

Calhoun, testifying for the first and possibly last time, denied widespread allegations that Boeing retaliates against employees who raise safety concerns.

“I often cite and reward people who raise issues, even if they have huge consequences for our company and our production,” he said. “We work hard to reach our people.”

The genesis of the hearing was an incident that occurred on an Alaska Airlines flight in January, when a portion of the fuselage of a Boeing 737 Max 9 was torn from the plane’s body in mid-flight. Calhoun told lawmakers that immediately after the Alaska Airlines flight, Boeing held feedback sessions with employees across the company on ways to improve safety, and that the plane maker had made significant changes to its incentive structure. During the past year.

“I’m trying to address 30,000 ideas about how we can move forward,” he said.

That is not what current and former employees have alleged. Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, chairman of the hearing, told Calhoun that a dozen whistleblowers had informed the subcommittee of a series of retaliatory measures, including reassignment, exclusion from key meetings, verbal attacks and even physical threats.

Boeing director and whistleblower John Barnett, who died in March in an apparent suicide, received 21 phone calls from his supervisor in a single day and 19 on another day after Barnett expressed concern about a lack of parts. According to Blumenthal, when Barnett confronted the supervisor about the calls, the supervisor told him that he would “push him until he broke.”

“I heard from the complainants who appeared at your hearing,” Calhoun told Blumenthal. “Something went wrong and I believe in the sincerity of his comments.”

Following the Alaska Airlines disaster, a wave of whistleblowers has added fuel to investigations into Boeing. Before the hearing, the subcommittee released claims by a quality inspector, Sam Mohawk, who alleged that Boeing lost track of up to 400 pieces of 737 Max aircraft.

One of the main questions the subcommittee addressed was whether Boeing had actually made substantial changes to its quality and safety controls over the past five years.

In 2021, the company settled a lawsuit with the Department of Justice after two plane crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people. Boeing paid a $243.6 million fine in exchange for avoiding charges for misleading regulators about a flight system. The Justice Department now alleges that Boeing failed to make agreed-upon changes to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

“I think it’s certainly shown that you can talk about these changes, but actually making them might require a different team,” Blumenthal said.

Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, accused Calhoun of “strip mining” the company, saying the CEO had deliberately chosen to maximize profits and stock price at the expense of safety.

“We have had multiple whistleblowers come forward to this committee alleging that Boeing is taking every possible step on quality and safety,” Hawley said. “Not just in the past, but now.”

Hawley even asked Calhoun why he hadn’t resigned yet, but the CEO defended his career at the helm of Boeing.

“I’m proud to have taken the job,” Calhoun responded. “I am proud of our safety record. “I am proud of every action we have taken.”

Leave a Comment