Disturbing revelations in the latest batch of internal Boeing communications released to Congress this week demonstrate the company's "deliberate concealment" of a new flight control system on its 737 MAX to keep it out of flight control manuals and avoid costly, additional training requirements for flying the new jets, two top House members investigating the MAX crisis told reporters on Friday.
Joined by Washington Congressman Rick Larsen, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio pointed to notes from a 2013 internal discussion that he said show how Boeing managers plotted to deceive safety regulators about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) during the plane's certification. The new flight control software on the MAX was later implicated in two crashes that killed 346 people and led to the plane's ongoing global grounding in March.
"We had here deliberate concealment over a number of years leading to two fatal crashes, and there are many other things that are disturbing in these emails," said DeFazio, D-Ore., citing the 100-plus pages of messages.
The committee intends to continue its monthslong investigation and will pursue legislation to change the way the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifies aircraft, DeFazio and Larsen said. It will also seek further interviews with Boeing and FAA employees and may seek deeper scrutiny of how the certification process was carried out for other aircraft, including Boeing's new 777X now under development, they said.
"The only way that Boeing can get to the finish line is to cooperate with Congress on this investigation," Larsen said.
The documents released Thursday generally revealed how, during safety certification of the 737 MAX, Boeing employees spoke of deceiving international air safety regulators and airline customers, and successfully fended off moves over several years to require anything but minimal pilot training for the new airplane, in order to keep costs down for airlines and make the MAX more appealing.
Among the most troubling content were derogatory references to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and foreign regulators, to a simulator supplier and to airline customers, and descriptions of a corporate culture at Boeing where cost-saving and scheduling considerations outweighed quality and safety concerns. Mark Forkner, at the time chief technical officer on the MAX, figured prominently in the messages, often boasting of how he used his "jedi mind tricks" to dissuade regulators and airlines against seeking additional pilot training requirements on the MAX.
Boeing this week issued statements to apologize for and disavow the messages, saying they involved only a small number of employees. It vowed to discipline those involved who remain with the company.
DeFazio and Larsen each dismissed the company's efforts to cast the messages as isolated exchanges among a few employees.
"Boeing is going to make scapegoats out of some of the people involved, I'm sure, trying to pretend that it didn't come from on high, but it did," DeFazio said. "They didn't create this situation. They were under tremendous pressure from the beginning to be certain that this plane would not require pilots to have a high level of training, simulator training, to save money and make it more marketable."