Dennis Muilenburg is used to presiding over sleepy annual meetings as chief executive of Boeing Co., basking in the glow of a soaring share price.
This year, the aerospace giant's CEO can expect a grilling from investors and reporters. Outside the Chicago gathering, protesters are expected to rebuke the company for a safety crisis that has engulfed the bestselling jet of the world's largest plane maker.
Until an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 slammed into the ground shortly after takeoff March 10, Muilenburg's Boeing had dominated the Dow Jones industrial average with a strategy best known for containing risk and returning cash to investors. Boeing still trails only Microsoft Corp. in share gains on the 30-member Dow index since Muilenburg took over in July 2015.
The questions may sharpen following a report of four calls to a whistleblower hotline at the Federal Aviation Administration the day after the Ethiopia crash. The calls, CNN reported Saturday, were from current and former Boeing employees concerned about the sensor that measures the plane's angle while flying.
At least one complaint alleged damage to the vane's wiring by a "foreign object," CNN reported. A malfunction of the Max's sensor has been cited in a preliminary report on the crash by Ethiopian investigators.
Boeing didn't tell Southwest Airlines when the carrier began flying 737 Max jets in 2017 that a standard safety feature had been deactivated, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. After the October 2018 crash of a 737 Max operated by Indonesia's Lion Air, Southwest asked Boeing to reactivate alerts on planes in its fleet, and midlevel FAA officials briefly considered grounding Southwest's Max aircraft, the Journal reported.
Now stock buybacks are on hold, and executives are struggling to salvage Boeing's reputation and public confidence in the 737 program, the company's main source of profit. Outside, a group representing relatives and friends of victims is planning a silent protest about "defects and secrecy related to the 737 Max."
After a plan to contain the financial fallout, looming next is convincing regulators around the world that the jet is safe to fly.