October 20 - Boeing’s Muilenburg Needs To Be Replaced


October 20, 2019

 

Mr. David Calhoun

Chairman of the Board

The Boeing Company

100 North Riverside

Chicago, Illinois 60606

 

Via Electronic Mail

Dear Mr. Calhoun,

I am writing to urge you to consider replacing your Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg and some of his leadership team. The text messages disclosed last week, apparently, after months in Mr. Muilenburg’s possession, are deeply troubling both because they were hidden from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Congress and because of the damning content they contained.

Regaining the trust of the flying public just became orders of magnitude more difficult; however, that’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding the crisis now facing Boeing.  

To use Dallas-based American Airlines as an example, according to the airline, some 87 percent of its customers travel at most once a year. The other 13 percent are mostly the high-value frequent travelers fielded by corporations, government entities, at the federal and state levels, and universities. These organizations are bound by Duty of Care policies that morally, ethically, and in many cases, legally prohibit management from knowingly placing travelers in harm’s way.

Duty of Care policies were already going to be a problem for Boeing as some foreign regulators might have sustained safety concerns after an FAA return-to-service approval and, as such, delay or deny their approvals. Likewise, there will no doubt be respected aviation safety experts who cast doubt on the review process and the MAX fixes. It will only take a portion of those frequent travelers, whose organizations ban the purchase of 737 MAX 8 tickets for some period of time, to produce a damaging bottom-line impact on your customers - the airlines - and a lower demand for the MAX. Hiding those text messages further significantly damaged Boeing’s reputation.

After the Ethiopian Airlines crash, a senior Boeing official, after reading some of my concerns, called to essentially tell me that I had “been played” by pilots, that all the concerns about MCAS were highly inaccurate and blown out of proportion and that MCAS should have been withheld from pilot manuals and training materials. Too much information is apparently confusing for pilots. On that call, the Boeing executive oozed corporate hubris in the extreme. 

Boeing has two root-cause problems that must be dealt with as the highest of priorities. The first is the corporate arrogance on display at every turn and manifest in the withholding of the text messages, which were likely only turned over because they may have been leaked to Congressional committees ahead of Mr. Muilenburg’s scheduled testimony later this month.

The second problem is the hollowing out of the safety culture of this once-great company to include management pressure on engineers and test pilots, retaliation, and fear of retaliation, against workers and withholding critical MCAS information from airlines’ pilots, FAA and Congress. Combining corporate hubris and a destroyed safety culture is toxic and portends future crises.

In January 2017, Boeing apparently lied when the chief technical pilot for the MAX told the FAA that MCAS activates "way outside the normal operating envelope," when he knew differently. That’s on the pilot; however, it is also on Mr. Muilenburg who is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the Boeing culture.

Mr. Muilenburg either knew in 2016 about the MCAS behavior problem discovered in the simulator and did nothing, or he did not know. More recently, Mr. Muilenburg either knew of the Boeing text messages released by Congress, and purposely hid them from FAA and Congress, or he did not know of them. Either way, in both situations, there is a governance problem.

I applaud changes that you and fellow Boeing board members are pursuing including a permanent aerospace safety committee on the board. However, that just scratches the accountability surface. There has to be accountability for the avoidable deaths of 346 human beings.  Muilenburg needs to be replaced.

No matter the changes to organizational structure, if the new configuration sits on top of the old corrupted culture, Boeing will continue to achieve the same terrible outcomes.  

I trust that you will find the courage to do the right thing by the crash victims and their loved ones, and your customers, employees and shareholders.

Sincerely,

Kevin Mitchell

Chairman

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