Boeing Engineer Filed Ethics Complaint Over Scrapped 737 Max Safety System: Report

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According to an internal complaint submitted by a Boeing engineer after this year’s 737 Max crashes, the company declined to put a proposed safety system in the plane in an effort to keep costs low—a decision that may have contributed to the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that collectively killed 346 people.

The New York Times reports that Boeing provided the ethics complaint to the Department of Justice as a part of a criminal investigation into the development of the aircraft model. According to the newspaper, the complaint was filed by Curtis Ewbank, a senior engineer who helped build the cockpit system on the 737 Max, after the crashes.

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The Times reviewed Ewbank’s complaint, which reportedly stated managers rejected suggestions for a backup airspeed system that would calculate an aircraft’s speed by pulling from numerous data sources. Ewbanks claimed that such a system could detect when the angle-of-attack sensor, which measures the aircraft’s position in air, is failing, so other systems know to stop relying on that false information.

According to the complaint, several engineers and a chief test pilot were interested in including a backup airspeed system in the 737 Max, but a Boeing executive chose to not pursue the option due to potential costs and because it could require pilots to go through flight simulation training.

As the Times points out, investigators now believe that in both crashes the angle-of-attack sensor likely failed, thereby sending bad data to to the system that is supposed to prevent stalls. That system then acted faultily, causing the planes to nosedive.

A Boeing spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement, “Safety, quality and integrity are at the core of Boeing’s values,” adding that Boeing allows employees various channels to raise concerns confidentially.

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Ewbanks reportedly wrote in the complaint that that it is impossible to say for sure that adding the backup airspeed system would have prevented the tragedies, but the decision highlighted a company environment that sometimes put profit before safety.

“I was willing to stand up for safety and quality, but was unable to actually have an effect in those areas,” Ewbank said in the complaint, according to the Times. “Boeing management was more concerned with cost and schedule than safety or quality.”

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[The New York Times]

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Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo