Ex-Boeing employee who warned about 737 problems to testify at hearing

David Shepardson, Reuters

Posted at Dec 10 2019 07:39 AM

Aerial photos showing Boeing 737 Max airplanes parked at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, US Oct. 20, 2019. Gary He, Reuters/File

WASHINGTON- A former Boeing Co employee who warned of problems with 737 production will testify on Wednesday at a US House hearing on the Federal Aviation Administration review of the grounded 737 MAX.

The aircraft has been grounded since March after two fatal crashes in 5 months killed 346 people. Federal officials say the FAA is not expected to authorize the plane to fly until January at the earliest.

Former Boeing employee Edward Pierson, who had worked as a senior operations manager in the flight test and evaluation unit, will testify before the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the panel said in a notice.

Pierson's concerns were referenced at an Oct. 30 hearing -- though he had not been named previously.

"All my internal warning bells are going off and for the first time in my life, I’m sorry to say that I’m hesitant about putting my family on a Boeing airplane," Pierson wrote to Boeing management in mid-2018 before the first crash, according to an email obtained by the committee. He warned "the alternative of rushing to build is far riskier."

Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Monday that "although Mr. Pierson did not provide specific information or detail about any particular defect or quality issue, Boeing took his concerns about 737 production disruption seriously." He added that after Pierson retired and raised the issue again as recently as this year "those concerns received renewed scrutiny at the highest levels of the company."

Johndroe added "the suggestion by Mr. Pierson of a link between his concerns and the recent MAX accidents is completely unfounded."

Pierson could not immediately be reached on Monday.

Representative Albio Sires, a Democrat, on Oct. 30, questioned Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg about concerns raised by a Boeing employee about Boeing's 737 production and his recommendation that production be halted. Sires said the employee wrote directly to Muilenburg in December 2018 after he had retired.

Johndroe confirmed Monday Pierson was the employee referenced by Sires.

"He raised some good concerns. We went back and took a look at his concerns and in some cases we identified areas where we thought his issues had already been addressed," Muilenburg said at the hearing. Boeing did not slow production after Pierson's concerns.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, FAA Aircraft Certification Service Executive Director Earl Lawrence and a member of the FAA's Technical Advisory Board, Matt Kiefer, as well as former FAA employee G. Michael Collins will also testify.