Boeing to face grilling on Capitol Hill over 'outrageous' instant messages

Boeing is set to face at least one grilling on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks as lawmakers investigate new information about company employees feeling pressured to greenlight safety-related approvals.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will question Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on Oct. 30. Committee investigators have new information in the form of a 2016 survey showing roughly one-third of employees felt "potential undue pressure" from managers about safety-related approvals by federal regulators, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

The Senate Commerce Committee is also expected to hold a hearing on Boeing, whose best-selling 737 Max aircraft was grounded in March after two crashes killed more than 300 people.

The spotlight on Boeing comes after a report that Boeing may have been hiding issues with the 737 Max for years.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
BA THE BOEING CO. 248.07 +3.62 +1.48%

Internal messages from 2016 between Boeing employees suggest the aircraft maker may have misled the Federal Aviation Administration about a Boeing 737 Max safety system, Reuters reported, citing sources briefed on the matter.

The messages raised questions about the 737 Max's MCAS anti-stall system, which has been linked to the two fatal crashes in a five-month span, Reuters says.

"Boeing engaged in an extensive process with the FAA to determine pilot training requirements for the 737 MAX 8.  This process was a complex, multiyear effort that involved a large number of individuals at both Boeing and the FAA. This effort itself was just a part of a much larger regulatory process for the design, development and certification of the 737 MAX 8," the company said in a statement after backlash over the internal messages.

Maps show Boeing 737 Max crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Democratic Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Transportation Committee, said that "Boeing will have to answer for this" following the release of the internal messages.

"This exchange is shocking, but disturbingly consistent with what we've seen so far in our ongoing investigation of the 737 MAX, especially with regard to production pressures and a lack of candor with regulators and customers. This ... underscores why it is so important that Members of Congress have a chance to question Boeing, in public," DeFazio said in a statement last week. "This is not about one employee; this is about a failure of a safety culture at Boeing in which undue pressure is placed on employees to meet deadlines and ensure profitability at the expense of safety."

DeFazio was also critical of Boeing's decision to remove Muilenburg's title as chairman of the board, although he'll remain on as president.

"That's not exactly major accountability, and it probably goes deeper into the organization," the congressman told The Journal.

"Even if you grant that the board thought that the original crash was pilot error and bad maintenance," he continued, "certainly they should have stepped it way up after the second crash, and I haven't seen that."