Boeing pilots' messages on 737 MAX safety raise new questions
(Adds comment from Boeing, Forkner and Southwest pilots union,
updates share price)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Oct 18 (Reuters) - A Boeing Co senior
pilot said he might have unintentionally misled regulators, in a
series of internal messages from 2016 that became public Friday,
plunging the world's largest airplane maker into a fresh crisis.
The messages, first reported by Reuters, sent Boeing's
shares tumbling, prompted a demand by U.S. regulators for an
immediate explanation, and a new call in Congress for Boeing to
shake up its management as it continues to grapple with the
fallout from two fatal crashes that have grounded its
In a transcript of instant messages between two employees,
the 737 MAX's then-chief technical pilot, Mark Forkner, raised
questions about the performance of the so-called MCAS anti-stall
system in the airplane. The system has been tied to the crashes
in Indonesia and Ethiopia that together killed 346 people.
In the exchange with another Boeing pilot, Forkner said the
MCAS's performance in the simulator was "running rampant."
The messages, which sources provided to Reuters, appear to
be the first publicly known observations that MCAS behaved
erratically during testing before the aircraft entered service.
The Federal Aviation Administration ordered Boeing Chief
Executive Dennis Muilenburg to give an "immediate" explanation
for the delay in turning over the "concerning" document which
Boeing discovered some months ago.
The fresh discovery came days before Muilenburg, who was
stripped of his chairman title by the board last week, is due to
testify before Congress.
The FAA said it "is reviewing this information to determine
what action is appropriate."
A person briefed on the matter said Boeing failed to turn
over the documents to the FAA for four months and that the
Justice Department is also in possession of the messages.
Boeing said on Friday Muilenburg had called FAA
Administrator Steve Dickson to respond to the concerns raised in
his letter and assured him that the company "is taking every
step possible to safely return the MAX to service."
It said it had produced the document containing a former
Boeing employee's statements to the appropriate investigating
authority earlier this year, and brought it to the attention of
the Department of Transportation on Thursday.
Boeing has been cooperating with the House of
Representatives Transportation & Infrastructure Committee's
probe into the 737 MAX and will continue to do so in
investigations by U.S. authorities, the company said.
Boeing turned the documents over to the U.S. Department of
Justice and the FBI in February, one source said.
Federal prosecutors aided by the FBI, the Department of
Transportation's inspector general and several blue-ribbon
panels are investigating the 737 MAX's certification. And the
U.S. Senate Commerce Committee confirmed it will question
Muilenburg at an Oct. 29 hearing, one day before a House of
Representatives panel is scheduled to question him.
The 737 MAX has been grounded worldwide since March,
forcing more than 100 daily flight cancellations at large U.S
operators of the aircraft like Southwest Airlines Co and
American Airlines, and eroding their profits.
Boeing has said the grounding has already cost it at least
Its shares fell 6.8% to close at $344.00, before edging up
1.4% after hours.
'I BASICALLY LIED'
Forkner said in one text message, "I basically lied to the
regulators (unknowingly)." The other employee responded that "it
wasn't a lie, no one told us that was the case" of an issue with
Forkner responded soon after: "Granted I suck at flying, but
even this was egregious." At one point Forkner said "there are
still some real fundamental issues" in the simulator.
In the exchange, Forkner said he was writing while "drinking
icy cold grey goose."
"If you read the whole chat, it is obvious that there was no
'lie,'" Forkner's lawyer David Gerger said by email on Friday.
"The simulator was not reading right and had to be fixed to
fly like the real plane. Mark's career – at Air Force, at FAA,
and at Boeing – was about safety. And based on everything he
knew, he absolutely thought this plane was safe."
Forkner is no longer employed by Boeing. The Seattle Times
reported in September that he repeatedly invoked his Fifth
Amendment right to not turn over documents subpoenaed by the
The FAA reiterated that it 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."
Boeing has been revising the 737 MAX software as part of its
efforts to win fresh approval for the jet to fly again.
Southwest, the world's largest operators of the 737 MAX,
said in a statement it had been unaware of the messages but
continued to work with the FAA and Boeing to safely return the
aircraft to service.
The Southwest pilots union, which has filed a lawsuit
against Boeing for lost wages during the grounding, said in a
statement that the document was "more evidence that Boeing
misled pilots, government regulators and other aviation experts
about the safety of the 737 MAX."
"As pilots, we have to be able to trust Boeing to truthfully
disclose the information we need to safely operate our aircraft.
In the case of the 737 MAX, that absolutely did not happen,"
Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Jon Weaks said.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Tracy
Rucinski in Chicago and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by
First Published: 2019-10-18 18:27:57
Updated 2019-10-18 23:57:58
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