Congress

Emails show Boeing employees derided FAA and worried about 737 Max simulators

Chairmen investigating FAA's handling of ill-fated aircraft say 'incredibly damning' messages show 'troubling disregard for safety'

Boeing 737 Max airplanes are stored on employee parking lots near Boeing Field in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Long before two separate Boeing 737 Max airplane crashes killed 346 people, employees of the company exchanged internal messages displaying deep concern about the aircraft’s simulators as well as disdain for federal regulators.

In dozens of pages of messages released to congressional committees investigating the October 2018 crash of a Lion Air jet in Indonesia and the March 2019 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft in Ethiopia, employees expressed dismay about a flight simulator used to test the aircraft, criticized the culture of the company and bantered about tricking regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration to certify the aircraft.

[FAA review predicted fatalities after first Boeing 737 Max crash]

The Max has been grounded since shortly after the second crash, and Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, was fired in December.

The release of the emails comes two days after Boeing began recommending pilots undergo training on a simulator before flying the Max; they had previously resisted such a recommendation.

Meanwhile, congressional investigations are ongoing, with Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, eyeing the process under which new aircraft are certified by the FAA.

But the emails released Thursday added a new, damning perspective to the investigation.

Corporate pressure

Taken together, the emails paint a picture of a workforce under tremendous pressure to get the aircraft approved while requiring minimal guidance to fly it.

At one point, Mark Forkner, the chief technical pilot for the company, vowed to go “face to face” with any regulator who tried to require simulator training for the Max.

Meanwhile, instant messages reflected deep concern about the simulator itself.

“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft,” one Boeing employee asked another in a February 2018 text exchange. “I wouldn’t.”

“No,” the other employee replied.

In another exchange, one Boeing employee told another, “I’ll be shocked if the FAA passes this turd.”

“The FAA were neither thorough nor demanding and failed to write up many issues,” another employee wrote, in yet another text exchange, while one joked in another message, “I still haven’t been forgiven by god for the covering up I did last year.”

The company was quick to apologize.

“We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them,” the company said in a lengthy statement on its website. “The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response. This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.”

[Probe faults Boeing over 737 Max details given to FAA before certification]

The company said all of the Boeing Max simulators are “functioning effectively,” with the problems discussed in the emails having occurred “early in the service life of these simulators.”

“These communications do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable,” they said. “That said, we remain confident in the regulatory process for qualifying these simulators.”

Lawmakers, who received the documents last month and pushed Boeing to release them Thursday, were furious.

DeFazio called the emails “incredibly damning.”

“They paint a deeply disturbing picture of the lengths Boeing was apparently willing to go to in order to evade scrutiny from regulators, flight crews and the flying public, even as its own employees were sounding alarms internally,” he said. “I can only imagine how painful it must be for the families of the 346 victims to read these new documents that detail some of the earliest and most fundamental errors in the decisions that went into the fatally flawed aircraft.”

‘Coordinated effort’

DeFazio said the emails show “a coordinated effort dating back to the earliest days of the 737 Max program to conceal critical information from regulators and the public.”

Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the messages “suggest a troubling disregard for safety among some at Boeing and raise questions about the efficacy of FAA’s oversight of the certification process.”

In a statement, the FAA said “while the tone and content of some of the language contained in the documents is disappointing, the FAA remains focused on following a thorough process for returning the Boeing 737 Max to passenger service.”

The agency said it maintains “a rigorous process for qualifying flight simulators,” and said the simulator referenced “has been evaluated and qualified three times in the last six months. Any potential safety deficiencies identified in the documents have been addressed.”

“Our experts determined that nothing in the submission pointed to any safety risks that were not already identified as part of the ongoing review of proposed modifications to the aircraft,” it said.

 

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