Congress has a lot to say about Boeing’s troubles. But what will it do?

Dueling Senate hearings earlier this month focused on Boeing’s safety culture, with whistleblower testimony that lawmakers called troubling as they pledged to further address the company’s problems.

A Federal Aviation Administration-appointed panel addressing the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on April 17 described a culture at Boeing that needs to substantially change from its current environment where employees fear retaliation if they bring up safety concerns. That hearing coincided with a hearing with a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee, which heard accusations from current and former Boeing employees that the company hid safety risks. In response, Boeing has said its 777 and 787 planes are safe, and that retaliation is strictly prohibited.

Congressional scrutiny has increased since the January incident on an Alaska Airlines flight when a fuselage panel blew out of a Boeing 737 MAX. Whether that scrutiny will drive any changes in Washington, D.C., remains an open question.

The Ontario, Calif.-bound flight from Portland was at 16,000 feet when the fuselage piece called a door plug blew out and the passenger cabin decompressed. Alaska and other airlines temporarily grounded dozens of MAX 9s, and the FAA ordered Boeing to postpone its planned production ramp-up pending an extensive audit of the company’s manufacturing and quality systems.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that four bolts that should have kept the door plug in place were missing. The door plug had been opened at the Renton factory so a team from supplier Spirit AeroSystems could repair damaged rivets adjacent to the door plug, according to the NTSB.

Boeing has until late May to come up with a plan to fix its quality-control problems, as required by a deadline set by the Federal Aviation Administration in February. Meanwhile, Congress is nearing its May 10 deadline for the long-term reauthorization of the FAA, which has faced criticism for its often-cozy relationship with Boeing.

[Boeing reports $355 million loss amid manufacturing safety crisis]


Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who chairs the Commerce Committee, said last week she wants to go beyond the FAA reauthorization bill in drafting legislation related to aviation safety.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat who chairs the Homeland Security investigations subcommittee, is seeking testimony from outgoing Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and pushing Boeing to respond to requests for information and documents, the senator’s office said. Blumenthal and subcommittee ranking member Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., had summoned Calhoun for its April 17 hearing, though Calhoun didn’t attend, nor did any Boeing executives.

“We want to provide Boeing the opportunity to explain to the American people why, in light of recent apparent safety failures, the public should feel confident in Boeing’s engineering and assembly processes,” the two lawmakers wrote in a March 19 letter to Calhoun.

“We expect Boeing’s full cooperation with our inquiry and look forward to this testimony,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

Boeing carries an outsized presence in Washington, D.C. In 2023, the company spent $14.4 million on lobbying, putting 100 lobbyists and 17 government affairs-firms on its payroll, Bloomberg reported.

Cantwell said additional regulation would depend on what happens with ongoing investigations and the FAA, but did not elaborate on details of potential legislation.

During the Commerce hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said lawmakers should address perceived risks to restore confidence for flyers but stopped short of calling for additional congressional action.

“While it is clear that Boeing’s culture and safety management needs drastic improvements, we should not rush to legislate just for the sake of legislating,” Cruz said during the hearing.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said last week the department’s watchdog will audit FAA’s oversight of Boeing, the online news outlet Semafor reported.

Congress has yet to hammer out a five-year FAA reauthorization bill; funding for the agency has been extended three times since legislation expired in September 2023. The House of Representatives in July 2023 passed its $103 billion bill and the Senate Commerce Committee passed its $107 billion bill out of committee, but haven’t voted on the floor.

Differences between the two bills will need to be reconciled for the final reauthorization, which is required to fund the FAA.

The House bill, for example, raises the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 65 to 67, while the Senate committee declined to include the age raise.

In 2011, after a two-week congressional impasse over the FAA budget, thousands of FAA workers were furloughed and construction projects at airports across the U.S. were halted. FAA could face a similar cash crunch next month if a compromise bill isn’t passed or authority isn’t extended again.