During more than five hours of testimony in front of the House Committee on Transportation on Wednesday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg answered dozens of questions about the company's flawed 737 Max and the plane's two fatal crashes.
But it was a question about a different airplane that left Muilenburg speechless.
And as it turns out, it's a question that Boeing appears to have tried to intercept before the hearing started, according to a leaked email from a Boeing lobbyist to staffers for Rep. John Garamendi, who represents California's 3rd Congressional District.
More than an hour into the testimony, Garamendi asked Muilenburg whether there was a pattern of flawed aircraft being produced by Boeing.
"Would you like to talk to me about the quality of the KC-46," Garamendi asked, referencing a problematic military jet built by Boeing. Muilenburg was silent.
"Or would you like to talk about the quality of the Dreamliner," he continued. "You have a systemic problem in your company."
The KC-46 is a military tanker and transport aircraft based on Boeing's 767 commercial airplane.
It has been plagued by delays and maintenance concerns since the program began in 2011. It has been delayed several times, and exceeded its budget. Boeing has previously taken a $3.5 billion charge due to delays and redesigns, according to Defense News.
The Dreamliner, also called the 787, is a commercial jet. It was briefly grounded in 2013 due to several reports of battery fires on the plane. Some 787s have also had to be grounded and repaired due to problems with engines manufactured by Rolls Royce (787 customers can opt for engines made by either Rolls Royce or General Electric).
Additionally, there have been questions raised by several airline customers about quality control issues on newly delivered Dreamliner jets.
According to a source on Capitol Hill who is familiar with the matter, a legislative affairs employee from Boeing called Garamendi's office on Wednesday morning shortly before the hearing began. The source said Boeing asked that Garamendi not include any mention of the KC-46 in his questioning during the hearing.
A representative for Boeing confirmed to Business Insider that the phone call occurred, but denied that the lobbyist asked Garamendi to not mention the KC-46.
The leaked email from the Boeing employee references the earlier phone call, and expresses disappointment that the KC-46 was brought up.
In September 2019, the US Air Force said that it would indefinitely bar the KC-46 from carrying cargo or passengers due to an incident during which the cargo locks on the floor of the aircraft failed. There were several other issues involving the boom that the plane uses to refuel other aircraft mid-flight. Additionally, foreign debris left over from manufacturing was found in several planes, twice leading the Air Force to pause deliveries.
In the Wednesday morning call, the Boeing representative, who is a member of the company's government affairs staff, reached out to a member of Garamendi's office requesting that the congressman stick to questions about the 737 Max. According to the source, the aide declined to agree, and said he would take the request to Garamendi directly. Garamendi was reportedly surprised that a Boeing representative would make such a request, and decided to ask questions about the other Boeing aircraft anyway.
Hours before the Wednesday morning hearing, Garamendi had discussed the KC-46 program during an appearance on CNBC. The Air Force is planning to base a KC-46 mission in his California district, but the mission has been delayed due to the plane's ongoing problems, according to the source.
A representative for Boeing told Business Insider that while a lobbyist did call Garamendi's office shortly before the hearing, it was simply to offer to answer any questions about the military jet, in response to the mention of it during the CNBC segment.
Such a request — to avoid a line of questioning during an open hearing — is unusual. It is less unusual for lobbyists to reach out to a legislator based on public remarks.
Boeing did not immediately return a request for additional comment.
Cheddar earlier reported that multiple lawmakers were contacted by Boeing before the hearing about the KC-46.