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lunes, 13 de enero de 2020
Boeing Co. released internal communications that show employees displaying a cavalier attitude toward safety, ridiculing regulators and some airline officials.
The messages revealed how employees persuaded-and in some cases tried to trick-airline and government officials to conclude that flight-simulator training wasn’t necessary for the 737 MAX.
Most of the 150 pages of documents were turned over to federal prosecutors months ago, according to industry and government officials, and Boeing subsequently sent them to the Federal Aviation Administration and to House and Senate committees starting just before Christmas.
The FAA said nothing in the messages pointed to any new safety risks that hadn’t been identified.
Many documents date from 2017 and 2018 when Boeing was working on 737 MAX flight simulators. Some exchanges go back as far as 2013, when the plane was in development.
The material was made public Thursday, two days after Boeing said it would recommend additional simulator training for pilots when regulators clear the MAX to fly again, reversing its prior position that computer-based learning would suffice. The names of pilots were redacted, but some titles were included, in the documents released late Thursday.
In 2018, as the company was contending with problems in its MAX flight simulators, some employees were concerned about whether regulators would sign off on the simulators. Some employees complained that they had not been given enough time to resolve the issues.
“Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee wrote in a February 2018 message.
Also that year, one Boeing management pilot told a fellow employee he was worried about fallout from some of his previous work that, he seemed to suggest as part of the exchange, resulted in hiding potential safety issues. “I still haven’t been forgiven by god for the covering up I did last year,” the pilot wrote. “Can’t do it one more time. Pearly gates will be closed.”
Ridicule of regulators is peppered throughout the documents. After mentioning unnamed “morons” who decided to put certain kinds of instrument displays on the MAX, one employee added that India’s top aviation regulator “is apparently even stupider.”
The bravado and ridicule also extended to fellow Boeing employees. “This airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys,” another email declared.
The contents, mainly exchanges between company pilots and staff involved in the MAX simulator, are likely to ratchet up further criticism of Boeing.
The material comes in the wake of months of escalating congressional criticism of Boeing’s initial design of the MAX, which has been grounded world-wide since March following a pair of deadly plane crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
A smaller batch of similar messages, some involving the same Boeing staff, were released in October and prompted angry responses from lawmakers, who argued it pointed to major lapses in the plane maker’s safety culture.
Lawmakers focused many of their comments on Mark Forkner, then chief technical pilot for the 737 MAX, who in the messages released earlier described “Jedi mind tricking” regulators and said he had unknowingly lied to the FAA.
Among the messages released Thursday were some in which Mr. Forkner communicated with several carriers that were considering requirements for extra simulator training for pilots before flying the MAX.
In the messages, he tried to dissuade airlines from simulator-training mandates, arguing that they would be costly and unnecessary. In related communications with colleagues, Mr. Forkner described the immense pressure he was under to prevent regulators from requiring simulator training, saying failure would be “thrown squarely on my shoulders” and cost Boeing “tens of millions of dollars.”
Mr. Forkner’s name was redacted from the messages, but his title, 737 chief technical pilot, wasn’t. People familiar with the messages’ content said Mr. Forkner was the sender.
A lawyer for Mr. Forkner played down the messages’ significance and said they shouldn’t be taken out of context.
“Many people blew off steam in the ups and downs of their jobs,” attorney David Gerger said. “The fact is: military vets like Mark flew the MAX; they believed the plane was safe; the problem they saw was in the simulator.”
Mr. Gerger made the statement last month, after a House committee disclosed that it had obtained additional internal Boeing messages, but before the messages were made public on Thursday night. He couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
The belated release of those earlier documents to the FAA riled U.S. regulators. Boeing’s deteriorating relationship with the FAA contributed to the ouster of then-Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg late last year.
Senior FAA officials were concerned that the latest batch of messages implied that some Boeing employees were willing to sacrifice safety features to avoid simulator training. Those officials decided against releasing the messages earlier because the agency is considering potential enforcement actions against some of the individuals named in the documents, according to people familiar with the matter.
“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.
Several messages relate to problems with Boeing’s MAX simulators in 2017 and 2018 and use what the company called “provocative language.” They raise questions about Boeing’s interactions with the FAA in connection with the simulator-qualification process. The company said its simulators have been looked at several times since the messages were written and that it is confident they are working correctly.
“These communications do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable,” the company said. “We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them.”
Boeing said it hadn’t covered up anything and that it was confident that all MAX simulators are functioning effectively.
Boeing said it released the documents at the urging of congressional leaders.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, described the newly released emails as “incredibly damning.”
“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.”
Some of the communications stretching back to 2013-when Boeing engineers were firming up design of the MAX-show pilots emphasizing that helping airlines avoid costly and time-consuming simulator sessions for crews trumped safety improvements. The messages were intended to be confidential.
A feature designed to provide pilots with reliable airspeed in the event certain sensors malfunction shouldn’t be made standard, one of the messages noted, because “it would likely jeopardize the Program directive” to avoid extra simulator training for the MAX.
Venting their frustrations with how the simulator problems were handled, some employees pointed to what they described as broader failures of Boeing’s leadership.
“I don’t know how to fix these things…it’s systemic. It’s culture. It’s the fact that we have a senior leadership team that understand very little about the business and yet are driving us to certain objectives,” one wrote in June of 2018.