Boeing CEO calls handling of 737 Max crashes a 'mistake,' vows improvements

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Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said Sunday that his company made a "mistake" by failing to communicate the problems it was having with software aboard its 737 Max aircraft.

Speaking to reporters in Paris ahead of the Paris Air Show, Muilenburg said that Boeing's communications on the matter were "not consistent" and that the approach was "unacceptable."

The statement is the most direct apology yet by the Seattle-based airplane manufacturing giant, which came under intense scrutiny by regulators after two 737 Max aircraft accidents. A Lion Air crash in October in Indonesia claimed 189 lives, and an Ethiopian Airlines crash in March in Africa killed 157.

The Federal Aviation Administration has faulted Boeing for not telling regulators for more than a year that a safety indicator in the Max cockpit didn't work.

Pilots are angry the company didn't tell them about the new software that has been implicated in the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

More: On autopilot: 'Pilots are losing their basic flying skills,' some fear after Boeing 737 Max crashes

While flight data from both crashes seemed to suggest similar patterns – namely, radical changes in altitudes and speeds and the suggestion that the crew was battling inputs from onboard computers – Boeing and FAA officials were slow to respond. Many countries immediately grounded 737 Max aircraft; the U.S. followed suit later.

But as Boeing officials started digging into details of both accidents, it became clear that flaws in the aircraft's computer systems had been directly responsible.

Students from Hama elementary school, who walked an hour and a half from their school in the surrounding area to pay their respects, stand next to floral tributes at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia Friday, March 15, 2019. Analysis of the flight recorders has begun in France, the airline said Friday, while in Ethiopia officials started taking DNA samples from victims' family members to assist in identifying remains. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene) ORG XMIT: NAI112

In early April, Muilenburg posted a video on Twitter in which he said he was "sorry for the lives lost" and that the company was "relentlessly focused on safety to ensure tragedies like this never happen again."

Muilenburg added that it was "apparent that in both flights, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information."

More: Boeing says 737 Max software is fixed, now it's up to the FAA

Data showed that Ethiopian Airlines crew performed all procedures recommended by the aerospace giant but failed to gain control of the doomed aircraft.

About a week later, on April 11, Muilenburg said Boeing engineers had taken 96 test flights – a total of 159 hours of flight time – to make sure the changes in the jetliner's automatic anti-stalling system were effective. 

Muilenburg also said he has been on a worldwide tour to let airline officials know about the improvements being made to 737 Max aircraft. Two-thirds of the twin-engine model's more than 50 customers have attended simulator sessions to see how the improvements work firsthand, he said.

More: Amid scrutiny over 737 Max, Boeing to replace 900 inspectors. And union is not happy

He said the accidents underscored the need for continuous improvement at the aerospace giant.

"Lives literally depend on the work we do," Muilenburg said at a forum sponsored by the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. "We're humbled and we're learning."

Contributing: Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boeing CEO calls handling of 737 Max crashes a 'mistake,' vows improvements