Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg during a break of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing in Washington on Oct. 30. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

Boeing Co. BA 2.05% ’s newly installed chairman backed embattled Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg on Tuesday, while acknowledging a series of engineering missteps that led to two deadly crashes of the 737 MAX.

Boeing Chairman Dave Calhoun said Mr. Muilenburg wouldn’t receive bonus pay this year and wouldn’t receive stock grants until the grounded jet fully returns to service, a process that may unfold globally through all of next year. Mr. Calhoun said it was the CEO’s idea to reduce his compensation.

Mr. Calhoun’s endorsement of Boeing’s CEO, made during an interview on CNBC early Tuesday, came a week after some lawmakers questioned why Mr. Muilenburg hadn’t lost any compensation for his role in the crisis during two often-bruising congressional hearings, with some calling for his resignation.

“From the vantage point of our board, Dennis has done everything right from the beginning,” Mr. Calhoun said.

Mr. Calhoun declined to speculate how long Mr. Muilenburg, who has been CEO since 2015, might stay in the top job, suggesting his tenure may depend on how the company weathers the MAX crisis. “To date,” Mr. Calhoun said, “he has our confidence.”

From the vantage point of our board, Dennis [Muilenburg] has done everything right from the beginning

—Boeing Chairman Dave Calhoun

Boeing Chairman Dave Calhoun Photo: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg News

Pressure on the company has been mounting after congressional investigators released internal company documents suggesting some employees had raised concerns about a MAX flight-control system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS, implicated in two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that together claimed 346 lives. The MAX has been grounded world-wide for eight months since the second crash.

Plans to get the plane back in the air have suffered repeated delays. Boeing has said that it expects regulators will sign off on a package of software fixes and approve new pilot-training plans in coming weeks, which means the formal order to unground the plane at least in the U.S. could be issued before the end of the year. Mr. Calhoun on Tuesday suggested that getting the entire global fleet in the air, including finished planes that Boeing hasn’t delivered, will take at least a year and won’t be completed until 2021.

Mr. Calhoun acknowledged a series of flawed assumptions that gave rise to Boeing’s development of MCAS, referring to its belief pilots would respond quickly and correctly to misfires of the system that can push down the plane’s nose. Mr. Calhoun said “that deadly assumption” emerged early in Boeing’s internal review.

During a Wednesday House hearing, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg explains three key mistakes the company made. Photo: Reuters/Sarah Silbiger

“No one was hiding anything,” he said. “It was a set of engineering decisions that ended up being wrong.”

Mr. Calhoun suggested that Mr. Muilenburg felt urgency in fixing the flight-control system, saying, “From the beginning, he knew that MCAS should and could be done better.”

Boeing wants to make it easier for pilots to fly planes, a move that likely will mean adding technology in the cockpit to further automate flying, Mr. Calhoun said.

“We are going to have to ultimately almost—almost—make these airplanes fly on their own,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t want to fly without a pilot overseeing the flight.

Despite its association with two deadly crashes, Boeing doesn’t plan to jettison the MAX brand, Mr. Calhoun also said Tuesday. He pushed back against the idea that the company must try to “salvage” the brand.

“The only way to win a brand back is not to advertise it or to talk about it, but to win it with every next flight,” he said.

Airlines, meanwhile, have moved to reassure passengers that the plane will be safe to fly and are planning to conduct demonstration flights with executives on board. Southwest Airlines Co. has said the airline will run hundreds of flights before returning the plane to service.

A slowdown in aircraft production has weighed on Boeing’s financial performance, already costing the company more than $9 billion, with a mounting bill of compensation to customers, suppliers and families of the 346 passengers and crew who died in the two accidents.

Last month, Boeing’s board stripped Mr. Muilenburg of his dual role as chairman. Mr. Calhoun said Boeing isn’t looking to claw back compensation from Mr. Muilenburg. Boeing didn’t immediately release details of Mr. Muilenburg’s compensation changes Tuesday, but a company spokeswoman said the board approved Mr. Muilenburg’s suggestion.

Mr. Muilenburg received $23.4 million in total compensation in 2018, including a $13.1 million incentive payment after the company beat targets for sales, profits and cash flow. That came months after the first crash in Indonesia in October 2018. Vested stock options pushed his payout to just over $30 million.

Write to Andrew Tangel at and Micah Maidenberg at

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