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Boeing employee emails say 737 Max was "designed by clowns"

Boeing emails mock 737 Max problems
Boeing emails mock regulations and 737 Max problems 01:50

Newly released internal Boeing messages show employees disparaging flight simulators for the now-grounded 737 Max and apparently trying to hide problems with the simulators from federal regulators. Many emails, released by Congress Thursday, show Boeing employees discussing efforts to discourage airlines from requiring pilots to train on simulators before flying the new 737 Max planes.

An employee identified as a chief technical pilot wrote in a March 27, 2017, email with the subject line "flight transition costs" that he or she wanted "to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition from NG to Max" — that is, from the older model 737s to the new Max planes.

The pilot then seemed to suggest that Boeing would stop the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from requiring the simulator training, saying, "Boeing will not allow that to happen. We'll go face to face with any regulators who tries to make that a requirement."

The same pilot told an unidentified airline three months later, in June 2017, that if it chose "to require a Max simulator for its pilots beyond what all other regulators require ... it will be creating a difficult and unnecessary training burden for your airline, as well as potentially establish a precedent in your region for other Max customers."

In another exchange, from 2018, one employee wrote to another, "Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn't."

The second employee responded, "No."

In a 2014 email, an employee wrote that, "We don't want to indicate to the FAA that our design conflicts with pilot expectations (esp since [SIC] the pilot responses are naive and our design has been vetted in a number of demos)."

The names of the employees who wrote the emails and text messages were redacted.

The Max has been grounded worldwide since March, after two crashes that killed 346 people. Boeing is still working to update software and other systems on the plane to persuade regulators to let it fly again. The work has taken much longer than Boeing expected.

And Boeing earlier this week reversed its stance on simulator training, and is now advising pilots to receive more simulator training on how to fly the company's 737 Max plane.

As the documents released Thursday suggest, Boeing's employees had maintained that operating a 737 Max is similar to flying previous 737s. The company had previously said pilots who can fly older versions of the plane only needed a computer course — a roughly hour-long course on a tablet — to fly the Max. That helped airlines avoid time-intensive and costly training in simulators.

On Thursday, Boeing said the statements in the newly released documents "raise questions about Boeing's interactions with the FAA" in getting the simulators qualified, although the company said it's confident that the machines work properly.

"These communications do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable," Boeing said in a statement.

Employees also groused about Boeing's senior management, the company's selection of low-cost suppliers, wasting money, and the Max.

"This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys," one employee wrote.

The latest batch of internal Boeing documents was provided to the FAA and Congress last month. The company said it was considering disciplinary action against some employees.

An FAA spokesman said the agency found no new safety risks that hadn't already been identified as part of the FAA's review of changes that Boeing is making to the plane. The spokesman, Lynn Lunsford, said the simulator mentioned in the documents has been checked three times in the last six months.

"Any potential safety deficiencies identified in the documents have been addressed," he said in a statement.

A lawmaker leading one of the congressional investigations into Boeing called the documents "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 Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

DeFazio said the documents detail "some of the earliest and most fundamental errors in the decisions that went into the fatally flawed aircraft." DeFazio and other critics have accused Boeing of putting profit over safety.

The grounding of the Max will cost the company billions in compensation to families of passengers killed in the crashes and airlines that canceled thousands of flights. Last month, Boeing ousted its CEO and decided to temporarily halt production of the 737 Max in mid-January, a decision that's rippling out through its supplier network.

Kathryn Krupnik contributed to this report.

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