New emails and direct messages released by Boeing to congressional investigators reveal some shocking messages from Boeing employees about both their own planes and the regulators overseeing the safety on their aircraft. In one of the most startling messages from April of 2017, a Boeing employee wrote, “this airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”
The new documents, which were first obtained by the Washington Post and New York Times late last night, were delivered to Congress, which is exploring what led to the two crashes of Boeing 737 Max planes—Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed in Ethiopia on March 10, 2019, killing all 157 people on board, and Lion Air Flight 610 crashed near Indonesia on October 29, 2018, killing all 189 people on board.
“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one Boeing employee wrote in February of 2018, more than six months before the Lion Air crash. The other Boeing employee agreed that they wouldn’t put their family on one of the aircraft.
Another message from May of 2018 reads, “I’ll be shocked if the FAA passes this turd,” leading another employee to reply, “They are doing all this last-minute shit. I really do need to be there to make sure they haven’t screwed things up too badly.” It’s not clear who “they” is in this exchange.
Many of the newly-released emails revolve around whether pilots will have to receive special training for the Max aircraft. Boeing 737 Chief Technical Pilot, whose name is redacted from the documents, repeatedly says that pilots shouldn’t be required to do a 3-hour training session on the new aircraft.
As just one example from June 6, 2017, the Chief Technical Pilot emails another Boeing employee with, “There is absolutely no reason to require your pilots to require a MAX simulator to being flying the MAX. Once engines are started, there is no difference between NG and MAX procedurally, and that is that there is no OFF position of the gear handle.”
There also appears to be a direct message exchange where one of the employees talks about crashing a few times during simulator training and the employee says, “that’s what scares me about showing any of this” to regulators.
The messages also reveal at least two employees venting about the culture at Boeing, noting that it will take years for things to change.
The messages were redacted by Boeing, presumably to protect the names of the employees, but there are also some messages that are so redacted it’s unclear what’s being discussed at all.
Boeing failed to let the FAA know about these messages when they first discovered them, according to reports from October, which naturally angered people at the FAA who have been investigating the systemic failures that led to Max getting approval. One key finding has been that the FAA reportedly allowed Boeing to do a lot of its own certification.
The new software at the heart of the two crashes was the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) which would automatically force the nose of the plane down because the computers believed the aircraft was stalling out.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did not immediately respond to an email from Gizmodo Friday morning. Boeing, which fired its CEO Dennis A. Muilenburg last month in the wake of the 737 Max crashes, also did not reply to a request for comment from Gizmodo early Friday but sent Congress a statement obtained by the New York Times.
“These communications contain provocative language, and, in certain instances, raise questions about Boeing’s interactions with the F.A.A. in connection with the simulator qualification process,” Boeing said in a statement. “Having carefully reviewed the issue, we are confident that all of Boeing’s Max simulators are functioning effectively.”
Boeing also expressed regret for the emails and apologized both to the FAA and Congress.
“The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response,” Boeing continued. “This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.”
The Washington Post uploaded a PDF of the emails but didn’t include a searchable version. Gizmodo has OCR’d the document and uploaded it to Archive.org, where it can be searched.
These new emails will likely be viewed with anger and frustration by the families of the 346 people that died on Boeing 737 Max planes. And they have every right to be upset. We’ve learned that Boeing took enormous shortcuts to limit costs, the FAA knew what was happening, and now we know, through these emails, that Boeing employees had disdain for the process that’s supposed to keep passengers safe.
Boeing may be promising disciplinary action, but these messages clearly point to broader problems. People lied to get a plane in the air and regulators were asleep at the wheel. As a result, hundreds of people lost their lives. Nothing good happens when the systems that are meant to keep people safe are so poisoned from the inside out.