With the fate of the American manufacturing economy hanging in the balance, Boeing has been struggling to make it to 2020 in one piece. America’s largest exporter is dealing with a litany of problems, only some of which are related to the never-ending nightmare that is the Boeing 737 MAX 8.
Yesterday, Boeing lost its CEO in a classic American Christmas shit-canning. And although Dennis Muilenburg’s firing was probably long overdue, the end result is that the Chicago-based aerospace giant now seems even more desperate and rudderless than it did before, as it struggles through a difficult leadership change in the midst of corporate scandal without end.
And on Tuesday, reporters at Bloomberg News offered some insight into what finally may have tipped the scales in favor of Muilenburg’s firing: Boeing reportedly neglected to turn over a batch of internal messages related to the 737 MAX program to the FAA, despite having turned the messages over to the FBI as part of the DoJ’s criminal investigation into the oversight lapses that plagued the program.
This is the second time that Boeing has failed to turn over a batch of internal messages to the FAA, and we imagine the FAA’s discovery of the messages probably contributed in some way to Muilenburg’s ouster (it’s been reported that Muilenburg’s failure to play nice with Boeing’s main regulator contributed to his firing).
According to Bloomberg, the FAA only learned of the messages’ existence over the past few days, but was not told any details. But now that we know the details, we can see why the agency would be angry about being left in the dark.
Because the messages were from a high-ranking Boeing test pilot expressing concerns about the MCAS anti-stall system that is suspected of causing two crashes that killed roughly 350 people.
In October, Boeing disclosed to the FAA instant messages and emails by a high-ranking company pilot who in 2016 expressed misgivings about the software implicated in two fatal crashes on the Max.
Boeing had known about those messages since early in the year and turned them over to the Justice Department in February. It didn’t give them to the FAA immediately because of the criminal investigation into how the plane was approved, Bloomberg News reported at the time.
The delay angered the FAA, which is charged with overseeing Boeing. One of the agency’s key tenets is that entities it oversees must disclose safety issues or possible breaches of regulations. In some circumstances, failing to tell the agency about such an issue may be considered a legal violation.
“The FAA finds the substance of the document concerning,” the agency said in a statement on Oct. 18. “The FAA is also disappointed that Boeing did not bring this document to our attention immediately upon its discovery.”
The pilot, Mark Forkner, expressed concerns that MCAS was “running rampant” during the test flights.
The November 2016 instant messages disclosed in October, which were reviewed by Bloomberg News, were between between Mark Forkner, then Boeing’s chief technical pilot for the 737, and another 737 technical pilot, Patrik Gustavsson.
Forkner expressed concern that the flight-control feature later implicated in the crashes was “running rampant” and said he might have unknowingly misled the FAA about it. In separate emails he sent to an unnamed FAA official, he said he was “jedi-mind tricking” regulators outside the U.S. into accepting Boeing’s suggested training for the Max.
A lawyer for Forkner, David Gerger, said issues raised in the messages were the result of balky simulator software and not a result of problems with the plane itself. Forkner believed the plane was safe and didn’t mislead the FAA, Gerger said.
What nobody seems to care about is the fact that this is evidence that Boeing deliberately ignored warnings from some of its senior testing officials about the 737 MAX 8 – warnings that, if heeded, might have saved hundreds of lives.