Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg speaks at the Boeing annual shareholders meeting in Chicago, Illinois, the US, April 29 2019. Picture: JIM YOUNG/AFP
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg speaks at the Boeing annual shareholders meeting in Chicago, Illinois, the US, April 29 2019. Picture: JIM YOUNG/AFP

Chicago — Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said the company is making steady progress towards getting approval for new 737 MAX software as he faced shareholders for the first timeon Monday since two fatal crashes triggered the jet’s grounding.

Battling the biggest crisis of his tenure, Muilenburg was expected to try to bolster confidence in Boeing’s fastest-selling airplane as questions linger over the model’s safety.

Family and friends of 24-year-old American Samya Stumo, one of the victims of the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX on March 10, held a silent protest outside the meeting site.

That crash, which killed all 157 on board when it plunged to the ground shortly after takeoff, came five months after a similar Lion Air nosedive that killed all 189 passengers and crew.

Under pressure

Boeing is under pressure to deliver a software fix to prevent erroneous data triggering an anti-stall system called MCAS and a new pilot training package that will convince global regulators, and the flying public, that the aircraft is safe.

Boeing has acknowledged that the accidental firing of the software based on bad sensor data was a common link in the separate chains of events leading to the two crashes.

“We know we can break this link in the chain. It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk,” Muilenburg said in prepared remarks issued ahead of the shareholder meeting.

The US Federal Aviation Administration could clear Boeing’s 737 MAX jet to fly in late May or the first part of June, two people familiar with the matter said on Friday, though Boeing has yet to submit the updated software and training for review.

Some pilots have warned that draft training proposals do not go far enough to address their concerns.

Meanwhile, deliveries of the 737 MAX, which airlines around the world had been relying on to service a growing air travel industry for years to come, are on hold.

Last week Boeing abandoned its 2019 financial outlook, halted share buybacks and said lowered production due to the 737 MAX grounding had cost it at least $1bn so far.

Shareholders have filed a lawsuit accusing the company of defrauding them by concealing safety deficiencies in the plane. The model is also the target of investigations by US transportation authorities and the department of justice.

Muilenburg is Boeing’s chairman and president in addition to CEO, and faces calls that could strip him of one of those titles. Boeing has recommended against the move.

Boeing must also contend with lawsuits filed on behalf of dozens of victims of the two crashes, including the family of Stumo, who are asking whether the Ethiopian disaster could have been prevented after what happened to Lion Air.

“Those in charge of creating and selling this plane did not treat Samya as they would their own daughters,” her mother Nadia Milleron told reporters in early April.

Shares in the company, worth $214bn, have lost nearly 10% of their value since the March 10 crash.

Reuters