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Father Of Woman Killed In Boeing 737 Max Crash Reacts To CEO's Resignation


Boeing's CEO is out. The company announced today that Dennis Muilenburg is stepping down immediately. This comes 14 months into a disastrous period for Boeing. The company's been under unrelenting pressure from airlines, from the FAA, from Congress and from family members of victims after two deadly plane crashes. We'll hear from one of those family members in a moment.


The crisis began last year when a Boeing 737 Max 8 jet crashed into the Java Sea in October, killing 189 passengers and crew. Then in March of this year, a second crash in Ethiopia. At a press conference, the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines said all 157 people on board had been killed.


TEWOLDE GEBREMARIAM: Today's a very sad and tragic day for all of us at Ethiopian Airlines.

CHANG: The 737 Max planes have been grounded since March.

SHAPIRO: Both crashes involved a software system called MCAS that overrode the pilots' controls and pushed the planes' noses downward. Lawmakers and victims' family members say Boeing should have done more to admit to and fix the problems. In October, Dennis Muilenburg testified in front of Congress.


DENNIS MUILENBURG: On behalf of myself and The Boeing Company, we are sorry - deeply and truly sorry.

SHAPIRO: Michael Stumo was in the audience that day. His daughter Samya was on the Ethiopian Airlines flight, the second plane, which crashed in March. Since then, he's been working to hold Boeing accountable for what happened and calling for changes in how the industry is regulated. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: First, what's your reaction to Boeing's decision today - more than a year after the first crash - to fire the CEO?

STUMO: It's a good first step. More is needed. There should be resignations on the board itself with the private equity board members and the celebrity ambassador board members. (Inaudible) low-quality board.

SHAPIRO: You say it's a low-quality board. I know you've been really critical of the whole culture at Boeing, where the company shifted from a focus on engineers and safety to what you characterize as a focus on business executives and profits. Do you think that broader cultural shift at the company is responsible for the events that led to your daughter's death?

STUMO: Absolutely. David Calhoun is now the head of the board. He's been around since 2009, under the McNerney era - the prior CEO - and now Muilenburg. You had an erosion of quality then, when they fired engineers. They outsourced to low-cost countries, outsourced software writing and, all the while, were extracting wealth and doing financial engineering but not innovation and safety engineering.

SHAPIRO: So the kind of criticism that you are leveling at the company goes far beyond two crashes or even a single model of airplane to the fundamentals of the company itself. Do you think that this kind of activism can make as deep and systemic the changes as you are looking for?

STUMO: I don't know if you call what I'm doing activism. They blew a hole in my family. They killed Samya, and we're starting to figure out why. But I do know that when you have the things that, you know, we now know they knew - if you are a manufacturing CEO and you find these things are going on in your plant, you fix it now. You go in. You clean house; you put in systems to detect this stuff before it gets out of hand. You do not sweep it under the rug. It is bad management, and it kills people in this case.

SHAPIRO: You've also been critical of the role of government regulators, the Federal Aviation Administration. What kind of change do you think is necessary at the FAA?

STUMO: Sure. We simply need to move delegation back to the way it was just before 2005, when Congress passed a law requiring the FAA to outsource virtually all certification and design work to the manufacturer.

SHAPIRO: When you refer to 2005, you're talking about a shift where there used to be investigators with a relative degree of independence inspecting safety at Boeing, and that was replaced by investigators who reported directly to Boeing managers.

STUMO: That's right. And before '05, the safety culture could stop the process if there was a problem happening. After 2005, increasingly, they could not because they were overruled by Boeing managers who wanted to keep it quiet.

SHAPIRO: The country right now is having a debate over the role and size of government, where Democratic presidential candidates are pushing for tighter controls on corporations, and Republicans, including President Trump, are saying the American economy is strong because companies have been given more room to breathe. How do you situate the fight that you are having with Boeing and with the FAA into this larger national conversation?

STUMO: More regulation versus less regulation is the wrong framing. There's nuance. Some should be gotten rid of; some shouldn't. But in this case, everybody flies. We know what now happens after these planes that Boeing has been allowed to self-certify, self-regulate. And we have found, as families, that both Republicans and Democrats, congressmen and senators, they fly; their families fly; their staff flies. And they don't want to die in a plane.

SHAPIRO: That's Michael Stumo. His daughter Samya was killed when a Boeing 737 Max flight crashed earlier this year. Thank you for speaking with us today.

STUMO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.