Aerospace & Defense

'Damning' Boeing messages reveal efforts to manipulate regulators of 737 Max

Key Points
  • The 737 Max has been grounded since mid-March after two crashes killed 346 people.
  • Boeing said some of the messages "raise questions about Boeing's interactions with the FAA in connection with the simulator qualification process."
  • The "communications do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable," Boeing said.
Memos show Boeing workers mocked FAA regulators
Memos show Boeing workers mocked FAA regulators

Boeing employees boasted about bullying regulators to approve the now-grounded 737 Max without requiring pilots to undergo simulator training while others raised safety concerns and complained about lax standards, according to a trove of internal documents the company released on Thursday.

The contents of the more than 100 pages of internal messages present a fresh crisis for Boeing, which is struggling to regain its reputation after two fatal crashes of the 737 Max that killed 346 people and months of revelations that showed how the company designed a flawed airliner and sold thousands of them around the world.

Boeing shared the messages with the Federal Aviation Administration and lawmakers, one of whom called them "damning."

In messages from April 2017, one Boeing employee told another: "This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys."

Another message showed a Boeing employee hopeful they could "gang up" on regulators and steer them "in the direction we want."

A Boeing employee asked a colleague in a February 2018 message: "Would you put your family on a MAX simulator-trained aircraft? I wouldn't." His co-worker replied: "No."

In the same exchange, one of the employees says: "Our arrogance is our demise."

"I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition from the [older model of the 737] to MAX," read a message from Boeing's 737 chief technical pilot in March 2017 to another employee. "Boeing will not allow that to happen. We'll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement."

Another message from a Boeing employee later that year called an undisclosed party "morons" for ordering a type of cockpit display and said India's aviation regulator "is apparently even stupider."

Boeing said the messages "do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable."

Boeing had told regulators to remove simulator training from requirements before the FAA approved the jets, which became Boeing's best-selling aircraft, in 2017. The names of the people in the messages were redacted, but included in copies sent to lawmakers.

Some of the documents showed concerns about flight simulators.

The FAA, for its part, said the documents don't present any safety risks that it already knew about under its own review of the planes. It also backed the safety of the simulators mentioned in the documents.

"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.

Boeing tells 737 Max suppliers to suspend parts shipments mid-January
Boeing tells 737 Max suppliers to suspend parts shipments mid-January

"These newly released emails are incredibly damning," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which is investigating the Max. "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."

Boeing is in the midst of the biggest crisis in its history, as it scrambles to fix its scarred reputation from the fallout of the crashes. The planes have been grounded for almost 10 months, far longer than Boeing expected. The crisis cost its former CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, his job and prompted Boeing to plan to suspend production of the planes this month while the grounding continues.

On Tuesday, Boeing said it would recommend simulator training for pilots before the 737 Max can return to service, an about-face from its earlier stance and one that promises to drive up costs for Boeing and its airline customers.

Sen. Moran: I'm surprised Boeing 737 Max recertification is taking so long
Sen. Moran: I'm surprised Boeing 737 Max recertification is taking so long