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Illustration by Security Management

Internal Boeing Messages Mocked 737 MAX Regulators

Boeing released an embarrassing cache of emails to congressional investigators that call into question the culture of safety the company says it promotes in air transportation. The internal messages revealed Boeing employees insulting regulators, mocking U.S. aviation requirements, and joking about flaws in the 737 MAX while it was in development.

“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” said one employee to a colleague before the first crash in 2018, according to messages obtained by The New York Times. Employees also insulted their colleagues who were on the 737 MAX project. “This airplane is designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys,” an employee wrote in 2017.

The 737 MAX was grounded after two fatal crashes linked to the model’s software system killed 346 people. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reviewed the internal messages and found there were no new safety concerns.

“Our experts determined that nothing in the submission pointed to any safety risks that were not already identified as part of the ongoing review of proposed modifications to the aircraft,” the FAA said in a statement to NPR.

One of the internal communications revealed conversations surrounding Boeing’s decision and effort to not require pilots to undergo simulator training for the 737 MAX if they had previously flown the 737 NG—the MAX’s predecessor.

“You can be away from an NG for 30 years and still be able to jump into a MAX? LOVE IT!!” one employee wrote in an email.

In a change of policy, Boeing said it will now recommend pilots undergo simulator training for the MAX—once it is cleared for flight.

“Public, customer, and stakeholder confidence in the 737 MAX is critically important to us and with that focus Boeing has decided to recommend MAX simulator training combined with computer-based training for all pilots prior to returning the MAX safely to service,” said Boeing interim CEO Greg Smith, who has taken the helm after former CEO Dennis Muilenburg was fired in December.

Boeing also turned the communications over to congressional investigators, who expressed outrage.

“These newly-released emails are incredibly damning. They paint a deeply disturbing picture of the lengths Boeing was apparently willing to go to in order to evade scrutiny from regulators, flight crews, and the flying public, even as its own employees were sounding alarms internally,” said U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “I can only imagine how painful it must be for the families of the 346 victims to read these new documents that detail some of the earliest and most fundamental errors in the decisions that went into the fatally flawed aircraft.”

DeFazio’s committee has been investigating Boeing for almost 10 months, specifically on the design, development, and certification of the 737 MAX. Its findings so far have revealed “multiple, serious problems with Boeing’s decision-making and the priority that was place on production and profit over safety,” Defazio said.

“But these new emails bring my concerns to an entirely new level,” he added. “They show a coordinated effort dating back to the earliest days of the 737 MAX program to conceal critical information from regulators and the public. While it is also clear from these emails that the problems did not merely stem from a lone Boeing employee who uses colorful language in his communications, I have reiterated my request for an interview with former Boeing 737 MAX Chief Technical Pilot Mark Forkner to his attorneys, and I expect to hear from them at the earliest possible date.”

Failing to develop a culture where employees—including executives—respect safety and security can be costly. The grounding of the 737 MAX has cost Boeing at least $8 billion and cut 20 percent off the company’s stock price, according to the Times.

“A culture of security can only be built on a solid foundation. And that foundation is an effective security program,” according to previous coverage by Security Management. “However, if the security program is perceived as inconsistent or unprofessional, an initiative to build a culture of security around it will be doomed from the start.”