Published on Friday, January 10, 2020

Boeing 737 MAX: Shocking staff emails released

Boeing has been forced into a grovelling apology after the release of hundreds of internal messages which apparently show a disdain for FAA oversight as well little confidence in the safety of the MAX jet itself.

And the US air safety regulator, the FAA, is planning to fine the aircraft manufacturer $5.4million (£4.14m) for 'knowingly' installing faulty parts on the MAX.

The fine announced on Friday is not connected to the software system that investigators have implicated in the two MAX crashes last year.

It concerns 'slat tracks' attached to the wings.

The FAA claims Boeing submitted the jets for FAA approval despite knowing that the wing parts had failed a strength test. It also accused Boeing of failing to oversee its suppliers properly.

Boeing has the right to contest the penalty, which follows a $3.9m fine the FAA proposed against it for similar reasons last month.

Emails and instant messaging transcripts released to Congress also showed a concerted effort by Boeing to avoid making pilot simulator training mandatory for the 737 MAX.

The conversations have outraged lawmakers.

"It paints 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," said House Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio.

In one instant messaging exchange an employee asks a colleague: "Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft?"

The reply was an immediate 'No'.

Another Boeing staffer said: "I still haven't been forgiven by god for the covering up I did last year."

"This airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys," another wrote in an email.

Many transcripts plainly show Boeing employees were aware of fundamental problems with the aircraft and showed a disregard for regulatory authorities.

Boeing's 737 chief technical pilot Mark Forkner said: "I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition from NG to MAX. Boeing will not allow that to happen. We'll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement."

Forkner also treated Boeing's largest MAX customer, Lion Air, with equal disdain.

When Lion Air requested simulator training for pilots, Forkner pushed back and apparently managed to change the airline's mind.

"Now friggin [Lion] might need a sim to fly the MAX, and maybe because of their own stupidity. I'm scrambling trying to figure out how to unscrew this now! Idiots," a message between Forkner and a colleague said.

In conversation with the airline, he said: "There is absolutely no reason to require your pilots a MAX simulator. Boeing does not understand what is to be gained by a three-hour simulator session when the procedures are essentially the same…a MAX simulator is both impractical and unnecessary for your pilots."

Lion Air's decision to drop its request ultimately proved costly. A Lion MAX jet, flight JT610, crashed off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018 killing all on board.

Boeing has only just recently agreed to allow pilots to undergo simulator training.

A Boeing spokesperson said: "These communications contain provocative language, and, in certain instances, raise questions about Boeing's interactions with the FAA in connection with the simulator qualification process.

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

While they paint a damning picture of Boeing's work culture and the frustrations some workers had over cost-cutting, they also 'raise questions about the efficacy of FAA's oversight of the certification process,' said Senator Roger Wicker.

The US Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the handling of the 737 MAX production and certification process by Boeing.

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