Boeing working to ensure no repeat of deadly crashes, says CEO

  • Video report by ITV News International Correspondent John Irvine

The CEO of Boeing defended the company's safety record and declined to take any more than partial blame for two deadly crashes of its best-selling plane.

Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg took reporters' questions for the first time since accidents involving the Boeing 737 Max in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people and plunged Boeing into its deepest crisis in years.

Mr Muilenburg said that Boeing followed the same design and certification process it has always used to build safe planes, and he denied that the Max was rushed to market.

"As in most accidents, there are a chain of events that occurred," he said, referring to the Lion Air crash on October 29 and the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Max.

"It's not correct to attribute that to any single item."

The news conference, held after Boeing's annual meeting in Chicago, came as new questions have arisen around the Max, which has been grounded worldwide since mid-March.

157 people were killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Credit: AP

Southwest Airlines said over the weekend that Boeing did not disclose that a safety feature on the 737 - an indicator to warn pilots about the kind of sensor failure that has been linked to both accidents - was turned off on the Max.

Southwest said it found out only after the first crash of the Lion Air Max.

The annual meeting came six months to the day since the Lion Air crash.

Mr Muilenburg told shareholders that Boeing is close to completing an upgrade to flight software on the Max "that will ensure accidents like these never happen again".

In the brief news conference that followed, Mr Muilenburg said - as he has several times before - that the accidents resulted from a "chain of events" that included the erroneous activation of flight software known as MCAS.

Boeing has conceded that in both accidents, MCAS was triggered by faulty readings from a single sensor and pushed the planes' noses down.

Relatives of some of the 189 people killed in the Lion Air crash stand before belongings of the dead. Credit: AP

"We know this is a link in both accidents that we can break. That's a software update that we know how to do ... this will make the airplane even safer," Mr Muilenburg said.

Besides the software update, Boeing will present the Federal Aviation Administration with a plan for training pilots on changes to MCAS.

The company is pushing for training that can be done on tablet computers and, if airlines want to offer it, additional time in flight simulators when pilots are due for periodic retraining.

A requirement for training in simulators would further delay the return of the Max because of relatively small number of flight simulators.