Pilots' 2016 Messages Show Concerns With Boeing System

Oct 19, 2019
Originally published on October 31, 2019 11:28 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's new evidence that key Boeing employees knew that the 737 MAX had problems two years before the first of two plane crashes that killed 346 people. Senior company pilots discussed the problem in instant messages, with one calling it egregious. But federal regulators were never told. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: In November of 2016, as both are working late, Boeing's then chief 737 technical pilot Mark Forkner messages another pilot, Patrik Gustavsson, telling him, dude, log off. Gustavsson responds, you too. They banter about how busy they are, then Forkner describes a session in a 737 MAX flight simulator that day. There are still some real fundamental issues, the chief pilot says, adding that the new flight control system called MCAS was, quote, "running rampant" and "the plane is trimming itself like crazy." Gustavsson responds that he saw the same thing on another simulator. Forkner writes, so I basically lied to the regulators unknowingly, referring to earlier assurances to the FAA that the plane was safe. Gustavsson responds, it wasn't a lie. No one told us. And they then complained about being kept out of the loop and internal company pressure.

PETER DEFAZIO: I'm outraged.

SCHAPER: House Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio is leading a congressional investigation into the 737 MAX. He calls the exchange a smoking gun, showing that Boeing officials knew MCAS was faulty. And he notes additional material, newly disclosed emails showing that Forkner himself continued to insist it was safe, yet pressed the FAA to remove MCAS from pilot manuals.

DEFAZIO: But I don't believe he was a lone wolf. I think the pressure started at the top.

SCHAPER: The pressure, DeFazio says, was to keep development of the 737 MAX on schedule to maximize profits.

DEFAZIO: And it had disastrous results with 346 people dying unnecessarily.

SCHAPER: The FAA is criticizing Boeing for having the messages for months but only disclosing them now. Boeing did turn them over to Justice Department investigators earlier this year. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.