Airlines

Ex-NTSB official: Shocking Boeing 737 Max messages 'paints a bad light' but no new safety risks

Key Points
  • The newly-released Boeing emails are more troubling to the public than U.S. regulators, a former air safety investigator said.
  • "It paints a very bad light on Boeing, especially in the wake of two 737 Max accidents," Greg Feith said.
  • But he stressed that government regulators didn't find any new safety risks that weren't already known.
VIDEO8:4208:42
Former NTSB investigator on how corporate culture affects plane crash probes

A trove of documents released by Boeing, which showed employees boasting about bullying regulators and customers, are more "troubling" to the public than U.S. regulators, a former air safety investigator told CNBC on Friday.

"It paints a very bad light on Boeing, especially in the wake of two 737 Max accidents," said Greg Feith, formerly of the National Transportation Safety Board. "It's really important that the FAA, having looked at these emails ... didn't see any safety-related risk that they didn't already know about."

Over 100 pages of internal messages released Thursday by Boeing showed employees bragging about pressuring regulators to approve the now-grounded 737 Max without requiring pilots to undergo simulator training.

The emails, shared with the Federal Aviation Administration and lawmakers, "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."

The FAA, for its part, said the newly released documents don't present any safety risks that weren't already known.

And Feith stressed that the emails should be kept in context.

"It's troubling from the perspective of the public, seeing the types of internal communications between the employees. I think overall yes, it paints a very bad light on Boeing, especially in the wake of two 737 Max accidents," he said on "Squawk Box." But Feith said the emails don't necessarily show any new safety issues that would worry regulators. "It's really important that the FAA, having looked at these emails, saw some cultural issues, the fact that there is internal bantering, but they didn't see any safety-related risk that they didn't already know about."

Boeing had told regulators to remove simulator training from requirements before the FAA approved the jets, which became the company's bestselling aircraft, in 2017, partly due to easily transitioning pilots from older models to the Max.

Though on Tuesday, Boeing reversed its stance and said it would recommend simulator training for pilots before the 737 Max can return to service.

The announcement comes ahead of Monday's arrival of Boeing's new CEO, David Calhoun. CNBC reported in December that Calhoun's goals include improving transparency with its airline customers and regulators.

To that point, Feith said that Calhoun should bring on an internal and external group of auditors to probe the company.

"And compare and find out if, in fact, these organizational issues did have a very detrimental effect on safety," Feith said. "Now, while the general public may perceive that, when you look at how long we've been certifying airplanes in the United States and how long Boeing's been certifying these airplanes, I really have a hard time believing that with all of these comments and these emails that Boeing would turn out an unsafe airplane."

— CNBC's Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.