This week, Boeing released over 100 pages of documents exposing damning internal conversations among employees regarding the 737 MAX to congressional investigators. The conversations were included in emails, text messages and instant messages that referred to fellow Boeing employees who designed the 737 MAX as “clowns” and mocked Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulators, calling them “monkeys.” Several messages specifically discussed Boeing’s resistance to additional pilot simulator training due to cost, described issues with the simulator and boasted about deceiving FAA regulators. The release comes just days after Boeing said it would recommend simulator training. The move on Boeing’s part was a complete reversal of its previous efforts to discourage airline customers from demanding additional pilot simulator training and deceive regulators into agreeing to no additional training requirements.
“The content of these messages provides shock value, but the implications should come as no real surprise to those who have been monitoring this tragic debacle since the Lion Air crash,” said Beasley Allen’s Mike Andrews who focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation and currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims.
The 737 MAX planes were globally grounded last March after two of the aircraft crashed in separate incidents that killed a total of 346 people. Both of the MAX crashes were linked to a flight control software issue that inadvertently sent the planes into a nosedive shortly after takeoff.
“The circumstances surrounding the development and certification of the Boeing 737 MAX is a clear demonstration of greed taking over a corporation’s culture and greed kills,” Andrews said.
Among the released messages are several conversations about additional pilot training on simulators. From the beginning, Boeing rejected the idea of providing pilots with additional training because increasing pilot training requirements would ultimately reduce the company’s profits
Boeing’s former 737 Chief Technical Pilot Mark Forkner wrote in an email in March 2017 “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.”
In previously released messages, Mr. Forkner also boasted that he was “jedi-mind tricking regulators into accepting the training that I got accepted by F.A.A.”
A separate set of messages between Mr. Forkner and Lion Air representatives in June 2017 just before the airline received the aircraft shows that Mr. Forkner talked the airline out of additional pilot training.
“I am concerned that if [Lion] chooses to require a MAX simulator for its pilots beyond what all other regulators are requiring that it will be creating a difficult and unnecessary training burden for your airline, as well as potentially establish a precedent in your region for other MAX customers,” he wrote.
Lion Air flight 610 was the first of the two fatal MAX crashes. Shortly after the crash, information about the new flight control software MCAS, which has since been determined defective and a major contributor to both crashes, surfaced along with the fact that no one outside of Boeing was informed about the software. In 2016, Mr. Forkner convinced the FAA to remove mention of the MCAS from the pilot’s manual, leading the regulatory agency to believe the system would engage in only rare cases.
Although there is no way to determine if additional training would have prevented the Lion Air crash, likewise, there is also no way to determine if additional pilot training could have helped the pilots better navigate the deadly situation created by Boeing’s defective aircraft. Boeing took that option off the table for its customers.
Earlier this week, Boeing finally conceded and recommended to the FAA additional simulator training for 737 MAX pilots before the aircraft resumes service. The cost of one simulator is $6 million to $8 million dollars and an additional $400-$500 per hour of training due to labor and maintenance costs. The FAA will make the final decision but is expected to approve the recommendation.
Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews has also represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.