Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun admits 'something went wrong' after a worker who flagged a safety issue got 40 manager calls in a two days



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

Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike grilled Calhoun at a hearing of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations over a series of in-flight mishaps that have dogged the company this year—the latest safety blunders since a pair of crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed nearly 350 people.

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

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

The genesis of the hearing was an incident that occurred on an Alaska Airlines flight in January, when a part of the fuselage from a Boeing 737 Max 9 was torn from the body of the plane mid-flight. Calhoun told lawmakers that in the immediate aftermath of the Alaska Airlines flight, Boeing conducted companywide feedback sessions with employees on ways to improve safety, and that the aircraft manufacturer had made significant changes to its incentives structure in the past year. 

“I’m trying to deal with 30,000 ideas on how we can move forward,” he said. 

That’s not what current and former employees have alleged. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the chairman of the hearing, told Calhoun that a dozen whistleblowers had reported a host of retaliatory measures to the subcommittee, including reassignment, exclusion from key meetings, verbal assault, even physical threats.

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

“I listened to the whistleblowers who appeared at your hearing,” Calhoun told Blumenthal. “Something went wrong, and I believe the sincerity of their remarks.”

In the wake of the Alaska Airlines disaster a wave of whistleblowers have added fuel to the investigations into Boeing. Before the hearing, the subcommittee released claims from a quality inspector, Sam Mohawk, who alleged that Boeing lost track of as many as 400 737 Max aircraft parts.

One of the primary questions the subcommittee addressed was whether Boeing had actually made any substantial changes to their quality and safety controls in the last five years. 

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

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

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

“We’ve had multiple whistleblowers come before this committee and allege that Boeing is cutting every possible corner on quality and safety,” Hawley said. “Not just in the past, but now.”

Hawley went as far to ask Calhoun why he hadn’t resigned yet, but the CEO defended his record at the head of Boeing.

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



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