RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In the face of sharp scrutiny, Boeing's CEO has kept a relatively low profile. That will likely change today. Dennis Muilenburg will face shareholders for the first time since two fatal crashes led to the global grounding of the 737 MAX jets. Nearly 350 people were killed in those Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Muilenburg acknowledged previously that software errors caused the 737 MAX planes to nosedive and crash. When we last heard from the CEO, he said the company was making, quote, "steady progress in finding a fix."
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DENNIS MUILENBURG: We're comprehensively testing the software to make sure that it does the job. And they're taking the time to get it right.
MARTIN: NPR's Russell Lewis is in Chicago, where Muilenburg will meet with shareholders later today. Good morning, Russell.
RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Good morning to you.
MARTIN: So what are the biggest questions facing Boeing, heading into this shareholders meeting, and Muilenburg in particular?
LEWIS: Well, I think he's really got to calm both, you know, a jittery public but also, you know, hard questions from shareholders about, you know, what is the status of things? How, you know, are you going to get these planes back in the air, and when are these planes going to get back in the air? You know, this is the first time that Muilenburg will face shareholders directly. There are set to be protests outside. Despite the, you know, temperatures in the 40s and a heavy rain falling, there are going to be protests with people unhappy with Boeing and sort of how it, you know, got to this point.
MARTIN: Muilenburg is expected to hold a press conference, right? Do we know...
LEWIS: He is.
MARTIN: ...At this point what he might say?
LEWIS: Well, you know, it is the - he has sort of kept a low profile publicly. They've released a number of video statements prepared by the company and put out on Twitter and other places that have sort of talked about the Boeing line, where they've given updates about their efforts to find a fix for what caused these planes to crash, to ensure that they don't come down again. But this will be, you know, the first time that he's taken questions directly from reporters in a press conference setting. And they're going to be interesting questions, I'm sure, asked specifically around, you know, what is the state of things? Why weren't these airlines who were flying these planes initially told about this new safety feature that had been installed on this plane that is believed to be one of the causes that brought down both of those jets in Indonesia and Ethiopia?
MARTIN: I mean, you said that when the planes are going to get back in the air - that's going to be a question that Muilenburg faces today. But have there been any indications from others in the company or regulators about when they need to see those planes back up?
LEWIS: Well, you know, at this point there's no real rush, per se, from the safety regulators to get them back in the air. Obviously, Boeing would want these planes to be back up and flying as soon as they can. Boeing says it is finishing up this software package that is going to update the planes themselves. But interestingly, the FAA - even though Boeing has said it's basically done - the FAA still has not received that package. And the FAA itself is under, you know, a harsh light, as well, for initially approving this airplane as safe back when it started flying in 2017.
So there are a lot of people looking both at Boeing and at the FAA to say, you know, what needs to be done? How can we get it fixed? And, you know, that is where we sort of find ourselves at the moment. But it is clear that this plane is likely not going to be flying passengers, you know, at least until August.
MARTIN: Just real briefly, is Muilenburg going to keep his job?
LEWIS: I think so. You know, there are calls to split his CEO and chairmanship at the shareholders meeting today, but it is clear that he seems to have the support, at least for now.
MARTIN: NPR's Russell Lewis. Thanks, Russell.
LEWIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.