Boeing CEO meets with lawmakers as 737 Max 9 scrutiny builds

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Alaska Airlines N704AL, a 737 Max 9, which made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport on January 5 is parked at a maintenance hanger in Portland, Oregon on January 23, 2024. 
Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun met with several U.S. senators Wednesday on Capitol Hill as scrutiny on the company’s leaders intensifies over a blown door plug on one of the company’s 737 Max 9 planes.

“I’m here today in the spirit of transparency … [and to] answer all their questions, because they have a lot of them,” Calhoun told reporters.

The meetings were organized at Calhoun’s request, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Federal Aviation Administration grounded the planes after a door plug blew out Jan. 5 as Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, a nearly new 737 Max 9, was climbing out of Portland, Oregon, exposing passengers to a force so violent it sucked out headrests and seatbacks.

The FAA is still reviewing data from 40 early inspections of the planes before it can approve safety review instructions that would clear the path for the planes to return to service.

“It’s been difficult to predict [how long that process will take], so we’ve sort of stopped trying,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker told CNBC on Tuesday. “But as soon as we get it sorted out it’ll be up again.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, told reporters after his meeting with Calhoun that the Senate is looking into addressing airline safety in the FAA reauthorization bill.

“Aviation safety can’t be reactive. It has to be proactive. And that is why we need to get this darn FAA reauthorization done,” Sullivan said.

Earlier Wednesday The Seattle Times reported that the fuselage panel that blew out during the Alaska Airlines flight, manufactured by Spirit AeroSystems, was removed for repair and then improperly reinstalled by Boeing’s mechanics, not Spirit’s.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 24, 2024, before meeting with a group of senators.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Calhoun and Boeing declined to comment on that report Wednesday, citing an ongoing federal investigation.

“As the air safety agency responsible for investigating this accident, only the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board can release information about the investigation,” Boeing said in a statement about the Seattle Times report. “As a party to this investigation, Boeing is not able to comment and will refer you to the NTSB for any information.”

The NTSB didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Spirit AeroSystems shares were up 6% midday Wednesday, boosted by that report. The stock is down more than 10% since the Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines incident. Boeing’s stock was trading about 2% higher Wednesday but has shed more than 10% since the incident.

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