Boeing executives faced shareholders in public on Monday for the first time since two fatal crashes led to the grounding of the latest version of its most popular aircraft, the 737 Max.
CEO Dennis Muilenburg, speaking at Boeing's annual shareholder meeting in Chicago, said that the aerospace giant is making "steady progress" in implementing a software update that will enable the Federal Aviation Administration to certify the aircraft as safe.
Almost 90 percent of the more than 50 airline and other operators have "experienced the software update themselves" during a simulator session, Muilenburg said. Test pilots have taken 146 flights in 737 Max aircraft totaling 246 hours of airtime with the new software, he noted.
Muilenburg held on to his dual CEO-chairman role despite a shareholder attempt to remove him from chairmanship.
Read on for highlights from Muilenburg's public address:
Those money-losing customers
The company is "actively" engaged with airlines and other customers that are losing money from the 737 Max groundings, something Boeing "deeply regrets," Muilenburg told reporters. He declined to comment on specific airlines or amounts.
"The first focus here is safely getting the Max up and flying," the CEO said. "And then we'll address the follow-on issues."
Muilenburg said the initial certification process for the 737 Max was followed properly and was consistent with Boeing procedure. The two crashes, and the software issue, were part of a "chain of events" now under investigation in both crashes, he said.
Boeing, and the media, should wait for the outcome of the investigation, he told reporters.
When asked if Boeing would admit if the design of the software in question was flawed, Muilenburg stuck to his previous answers.
"It's not correct to attribute that to any single item," he said. "We know there are some improvements we can make to the MCAS and we will make those improvements. But the reason this industry is safe is that we never stop on making safety improvements. We never claim we have reached the end point. We are continuously, across all of our airplane programs, improving safety every day. We always look for opportunities to improve."
"That culture that's unafraid to make improvements over time, that culture is what has driven this to be an incredibly safe industry," he continued. "That is our commitment; we're not going to waiver from that. We will continually look for opportunities to improve safety. That's our responsibility and that's part of earning that trust back that I talked about earlier."
Safety "for everyone"
One shareholder asked what Boeing was doing to make safety processes more robust. "You don't have to have 300-plus people die every time to find out something is unreliable," the shareholder said.
Muilenburg denied media reports that Boeing may have "rushed the 737 Max to market," saying that "simply is not true. It was a six-year development; 1,600 test-flights of the airplane; 3,700 flight hours of development on the Max, so it was thorough and it was disciplined."
Boeing is first offering standard computer training packages on the new 737 Max software "for everyone" and "then, where it makes sense, augmentation with simulator training," Muilenburg said in response to a question from a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who also said he owned shares in Southwest Airlines.
CEO has no plans to leave
When a reporter asked him if he'd considered resigning, Muilenburg said he intends to stay, focusing on "safety and quality and integrity."
"I am strongly vested in that my clear intent is to continue to lead on safety and quality and integrity," he said. "It's important to stress that. We deeply regret what happened with these accidents. It gets to the core of our company"
Earlier, a shareholder proposal to remove Muilenburg from his position as chairman of the board failed, with less than 40 percent of shareholders supporting the proposal.
It's far from the first time that question has been posed. On an investor call last week, analysts asked if the outcome of the 737 Max and the ability to restore public trust were key to keeping both roles of chairman and CEO. Muilenburg said he believes in keeping the roles combined.
"I have daily communications with the board, both in my chairman role and in my CEO role," Muilenburg said on the call. "We think that is the right, most effective structure for our company. And I think that's, again, showing it to be the case even in the midst of this challenging situation."
$260 million less revenue
Investment firm Raymond James estimates the 737 Max grounding will reduce revenue at Southwest Airlines, the largest U.S. user with 34 of the jets, by $260 million in the first quarter, while American Airlines will take an estimated $185 million hit in the second quarter.
American Airlines flies 24 of the 737 MAX jets, while United Airlines has 14. Raymond Jones analysts also expect the grounding to result in reduced seating capacity during the summer, which can drive up airfares.
Safety "not optional"
"We don't make safety features optional," Muilenburg said in his prepared remarks. "Safety has been and always will be our top priority, and every one of our airplanes includes all of the safety features necessary for safe flight."
4 whistleblower calls
Earlier on Monday, CBS News confirmed that the Federal Aviation Administration has received at least four calls from potential Boeing employee whistleblowers about issues with the company's new 737 Max jetliner.
American Airlines pilots warned that Boeing draft training proposals don't go far enough to address their concerns about training, according to written comments submitted to the FAA and seen by Reuters, the news organization reported.
The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that Boeing didn't tell Southwest Airlines, the biggest U.S. operator of 737 models, and other carriers about a safety feature found on earlier versions of the aircraft that warns pilots about malfunctioning sensors had been deactivated.
$1 billion in fixes
Boeing last week said costs tied to the global grounding of its 737 Max plane jumped $1 billion in the first quarter and withdrew its 2019 forecast as it works to get the aircraft re-certified.
The planemaker is trying to stem the damage from a halt in deliveries of the 737 Max after its grounding following two crashes that resulted in the deaths of 346 people -- the March crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max flight and the October crash of a Lion Air flight.