Senior Boeing Pilot Reveals Flaws in 737 Max in Internal Messages
(Source: Voice of America News; issued Oct 18, 2019)
A senior pilot at Boeing said he might have unintentionally misled regulators, according to a series of internal company messages that were released Friday.
The revelation of the messages came as Boeing continues to struggle with the fallout from two fatal crashes that have grounded its 737 Max airplanes.
The transcript of the messages shows that in 2016 the 737 Max’s then-chief technical pilot, Mark Forkner, told a co-worker that the aircraft’s flight system, called MCAS, was “egregious” and “running rampant” while he tested it in a flight simulator.
The MCAS system has been tied to the crashes of the 737 Max airplanes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Forkner said in one text message, “I basically lied to the regulators [unknowingly].”
Boeing revealed messages
Boeing provided the internal messages to lawmakers, who are holding hearings this month on the 737 Max airplanes.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) called the newly released document “concerning” and demanded an explanation about why the company delayed before revealing the messages.
“I expect your explanation immediately regarding the content of this document and Boeing’s delay in disclosing the document to its safety regulator,” FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson wrote in a letter Friday to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg.
Muilenburg, who was stripped of his chairman title by Boeing’s board last week, is scheduled to testify before Congress this month.
Forkner left Boeing last year and joined Southwest Airlines — the largest operator of the Boeing 737.
Forkner’s lawyer, David Gerger, said in a statement, “If you read the whole chat, it is obvious that there was no ‘lie.’ ” He said Forkner’s messages showed that the pilot thought the flight simulator was not working and “absolutely thought this plane was safe.”
Two fatal crashes
An Ethiopia Airlines 737 Max crashed just after takeoff in March, killing all 157 people on board. Five months earlier, the same type of plane flown by the Indonesian airline Lion Air crashed shortly after takeoff, killing 189 people.
Investigators have focused on the MCAS system in the planes, a new automated flight system that was not included in previous versions of the 737. Investigators believe a faulty sensor in the MCAS system pushed the nose of each plane down and made it impossible for the pilots to regain control.
(Source: Federal Aviation Administration; issued October 18, 2019)
Late yesterday, Boeing alerted the Department of Transportation to the existence of instant messages between two Boeing employees, characterizing certain communications with the FAA during the original certification of the 737 MAX in 2016.
Boeing explained to the Department that it had discovered this document some months ago.
The Department immediately brought this document to the attention of both FAA leadership and the Department’s Inspector General.
The FAA finds the substance of the document concerning. The FAA is also disappointed that Boeing did not bring this document to our attention immediately upon its discovery.
The FAA is reviewing this information to determine what action is appropriate.
The FAA has shared this document with the appropriate Congressional committees and plans to provide additional related documents today.
The FAA is following a thorough process, not a prescribed timeline, for returning the Boeing 737 MAX to passenger service. The agency will lift the grounding order only after we have determined the aircraft is safe.
Read the letter
(PDF) FAA Administrator Steve Dickson sent to Boeing.
Boeing Statement Relating to Recently Released Nov. 15, 2016 Instant Message
(Source: Boeing Co.; issued Oct. 20, 2019)
CHICAGO --- We understand and regret the concern caused by the release Friday of a Nov. 15, 2016 instant message involving a former Boeing employee, Mark Forkner, a technical pilot involved in the development of training and manuals.
And we especially regret the difficulties that the release of this document has presented for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators.
It is unfortunate that this document, which was provided early this year to government investigators, (Emphasis added—Ed.) could not be released in a manner that would have allowed for meaningful explanation.
While we have not been able to speak to Mr. Forkner directly about his understanding of the document, he has stated through his attorney that his comments reflected a reaction to a simulator program that was not functioning properly, and that was still undergoing testing.
We are continuing to investigate the circumstances of this exchange, and are committed to identifying all the available facts relating to it, and to sharing those facts with the appropriate investigating and regulatory authorities.
Boeing engaged in an extensive process with the FAA to determine pilot training requirements for the 737 MAX 8. This process was a complex, multiyear effort that involved a large number of individuals at both Boeing and the FAA. This effort itself was just a part of a much larger regulatory process for the design, development and certification of the 737 MAX 8.
In that regulatory process, Boeing informed the FAA about the expansion of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) to low speeds, including by briefing the FAA and international regulators on multiple occasions about MCAS’s final configuration. The process also included evaluation of MCAS in low-speed configurations for both training and certification.
The simulator software used during the Nov. 15 session was still undergoing testing and qualification and had not been finalized, but it, too, provided for MCAS operation at low speed. Separately, a low-speed version of MCAS was installed on the airplanes used for training-related flight testing that the FAA administered in August 2016.
And FAA personnel also observed the operation of MCAS in its low-speed configuration during certification flight testing, beginning in August 2016 and continuing through January 2017.
We understand entirely the scrutiny this matter is receiving, and are committed to working with investigative authorities and the U.S. Congress as they continue their investigations.
We are deeply saddened and have been humbled by these accidents, and are fully committed to learning from them. We have developed improvements to the 737 MAX that will ensure that accidents like these can never happen again, and are committed to continuing to work closely with the FAA and global regulators to ensure the MAX’s safe return to service.
Chair DeFazio Sharply Questions Why Outrageous Emails Related to the Boeing 737 MAX Are Only Now Being Revealed
(Source: House Transportation Committee; issued Oct. 18, 2019
WASHINGTON, DC --- Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) sharply criticized the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to provide key emails to the Committee and called on U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to fully cooperate with the Committee’s outstanding request for records and provide unredacted emails immediately.
The letter comes after the FAA released a second batch of key messages and documents in one day related to the Boeing 737 MAX. The Committee, which is currently investigating the design, testing and certification of the Boeing 737 MAX, initially requested FAA provide all documents related to the aircraft on April 1, 2019, including emails and records.
The Committee was told in May 2019 by FAA officials that the agency had thousands of responsive emails and despite repeated requests to provide all of these emails to the Committee, the FAA has only provided several hundred.
Earlier today, Chair DeFazio released a statement after instant messages between Boeing employees, indicating Boeing withheld damning information from the FAA, were made public.
In his letter to Secretary Chao, Chair DeFazio wrote: “Equally disturbing is the fact that the second tranche of emails delivered by the FAA contain emails from a Boeing employee to an FAA employee equating the certification process for the 737 MAX with “jedi-mind” tricks and boasting that the Boeing employee “usually get[s] what I want,” indicating improper coziness between the regulator and the regulated—coziness which I prohibited in legislation in 1996.
“As a result, I am requesting the Department of Transportation respond immediately with unredacted emails so that we can assess these emails in their full context.”
DeFazio continued: “As I have said repeatedly throughout the course of my Committee’s investigation, it is imperative that we get answers as to what went wrong, resulting in the two crashes and the deaths of 346 people. On behalf of the victims and their loved ones, as well as the entire flying public, safety must always be the priority. I expect your full cooperation going forward.”
Full text of the letter is here.
Boeing Statement on 737 MAX
(Source: Boeing Co.; issued Oct. 18, 2019)
Boeing President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg called FAA Administrator Dickson to respond to the concerns raised in his letter. In addition, Mr. Muilenburg assured the Administrator that we are taking every step possible to safely return the MAX to service.
Yesterday, we brought to the attention of the Department of Transportation a document containing statements by a former Boeing employee. Earlier this year, Boeing produced this same document to the appropriate investigating authority.
Boeing has also been voluntarily cooperating with the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s investigation into the 737 MAX. As part of that cooperation, today we brought that document to the Committee’s attention as well.
We will continue to cooperate with the Committee, and all other authorities, as they move forward with their investigations.