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Changes To Boeing's Safety Protocols Are Getting Mixed Reviews


Boeing is changing its operations. The company has been under intense pressure as it settles lawsuits by families of those killed in two separate crashes of its 737 Max jets. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Back in April, Boeing was reeling in the aftermath of a second deadly 737 Max crash in five months that led regulators around the world to pull the planes out of service. Investigators focused on a poorly designed automated flight control system. And federal prosecutors are looking into allegations that Boeing engineers were pressured into rushing the plane's development while downplaying safety concerns along the way.

So the company's board of directors formed a special committee to look into Boeing's internal system of safety checks and balances, led by retired Admiral Ed Giambastiani.


ED GIAMBASTIANI: The Boeing independent committee review was extensive, it was rigorous and focused on delivering specific recommendations to ensure the highest levels of safety.

SCHAPER: Those recommendations include establishing a new internal organization to oversee all aspects of safety that would report directly to senior management and a realignment of engineering to streamline the chain of command.


GIAMBASTIANI: The committee and the board believe these recommendations will strengthen engineering at the company, bolster the safety policies and procedures for design, development and production of Boeing products and services.

SCHAPER: Boeing's changes to its safety protocols are getting mixed reviews, with some experts saying they're long overdue.

THOMAS ANTHONY: The steps that the board are recommending are all common sense, good steps.

SCHAPER: Thomas Anthony is director of the Aviation Safety and Security Program at the University of Southern California.

ANTHONY: Now, the fact that they're coming up with these procedures is sort of about six years late.

SCHAPER: Anthony says many of the recommendations were included in best practices recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization back in 2013, when the 737 Max was still in development. And Anthony says structural changes now may do little to change what he says may be a bigger problem within Boeing's corporate culture.

ANTHONY: Culture eats strategy or procedures for breakfast.

SCHAPER: Meanwhile, lawyers representing 11 families of passengers who were among the 189 people killed in the Lion Air crash last October say they've reached a settlement with Boeing.

Attorney Alexandra Wisner says Boeing does not admit liability, and a confidentiality agreement prevents her from disclosing how much money the families will receive. But she says the settlements provide some closure.

ALEXANDRA WISNER: It's very hard for these families to move on, but to be able to close one chapter of this horrific event allowed them to move forward with their lives in some small way.

SCHAPER: There are still more than a hundred additional lawsuits pending against Boeing for both the Lion Air and the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crashes. The investigations into the causes of those crashes continue, as do congressional inquiries into Boeing and its relationship with the FAA.

David Schaper, NPR News.


David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.