BUSINESS
11/01/2019 19:21 EDT

U.S. Flight Attendants Challenge Boeing, ‘Refuse To Walk On To’ 737 MAX Planes

American Airlines attendants have been joined by others in voicing their concerns, but in Canada they're staying out of the fray.

Gary He / Reuters
An aerial photo showing Boeing 737 Max airplanes parked at Boeing Field in Seattle, Wash. on Oct. 20, 2019.

MONTREAL ― Unions representing tens of thousands of flight attendants in the U.S. have challenged Boeing over its grounded 737 Max airplane, making it clear their confidence in the company’s ability to fix the aircraft has been shaken.

“The 28,000 flight attendants working for American Airlines refuse to walk onto a plane that may not be safe and are calling for the highest possible safety standards to avoid another tragedy,” wrote Lori Bassani, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, in a letter to Boeing obtained by Reuters.

The letter demanded the union be given an active role in the airplane’s relaunch. 

Watch: Boeing CEO slammed for “half-truths” in congressional hearing. Story continues below.

 

It was sent this week, following congressional testimony by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, during which Muilenburg admitted he was aware of concerns surrounding the plane’s MCAS flight control system even before the second crash involving the aircraft, in March of this year.

Unions representing flight attendants at Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have since added their voices to those concerns. Those three airlines are the only ones in the U.S. to have purchased the 737 Max, an updated version of the popular, 52-year-old Boeing 737 line.

The support of pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions could prove to be crucial in Boeing’s efforts to win back public confidence in the 737 Max.

The plane was grounded by air authorities around the world in March, following the second crash in five months involving a 737 Max. Those two disasters left 346 people dead.

But unions representing pilots and flight attendants at Air Canada and WestJet, the two Canadian airlines that have 737 Max fleets, are staying out of the fray. 

The Air Canada Component of CUPE, which represents flight attendants at Air Canada, reiterated its support for Canada’s independent review of the 737 Max, as did the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA).

Current procedures allow for aircraft certified by the U.S. airline regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to fly in Canada. But Transport Minister Marc Garneau has said he intends to carry out an independent review before declaring the 737 Max airworthy.

“The FAA has a history of delegating the certification of aircraft … to manufacturers, reviewing their work after the fact. This is very concerning to ACPA and significantly weakens what should be an important safety process,” the pilots’ association said in a statement.

Red flags

In this week’s congressional hearings, it emerged that a Boeing employee had flagged problems with the plane’s production.

“My first concern is that our workforce is exhausted. Employees are fatigued from having to work at a very high pace for an extended period of time,” the employee wrote in 2018, according to a report at CNN. “Fatigued employees make mistakes.”

“Frankly right now 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.”

Sarah Silbiger / Reuters
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on aviation safety and the grounded 737 MAX, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 29, 2019.

Muilenburg took a remorseful tone in his testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee.

“On behalf of myself and the Boeing company, we are sorry, we are deeply and truly sorry,” he said. “We’ve made mistakes and we got some things wrong.”

It remains unclear when the 737 Max will return to service, but the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected to certify the jet in the coming months. 

Airlines that fly the 737 Max have repeatedly pushed back their target dates for bringing the plane back into service over the course of this year. Air Canada has deleted it from its schedule until Feb. 14 of next year, while WestJet has it out of service until Jan. 4.

However, those dates are contingent on the plane being declared airworthy in Canada.

― With files from Reuters