346 people lost their lives in two 737 Max crashes in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia in March last year that investigators say were caused by a new element of its automated flight control system or MCAS. The system was designed to compensate for the fitting of heavier engines by ensuring that the nose of the plane would automatically turn down to avoid stalling. Instead, the system played a central role in the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, in which 189 people died, and the Ethiopian Airlines accident, in which 157 people died, by lurching into action shortly after the planes had taken off. The pilots were unable to regain control of the aircraft despite wrestling frantically with the controls.
E-mail messages sent between 2015 and 2018 show unnamed employees discussing the potentially fatal implications of what they believed was substandard work on the 737 Max project.
In an exchange in 2018, one refers to “to the very very few of us on the program who are interested only in truth”, and asks: “Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t.”The other employee responded: “No.”
In instant messages sent in April 2017 complaining about the Max’s flight management technology, an employee wrote: “This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys.” They referred to its “piss poor design” and urged: “Let’s just patch the leaky boat”.
Referring to the Federal Aviation Authority, the US regulator that certified the plane as safe to fly, another message says: “I’ll be shocked if the FAA passes this turd.”
One employee said in 2018: “I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year.”
Another boasted in 2015 of “Jedi mind tricking” a national aviation safety body by “making them feel stupid” for pushing for more training requirements, saying: “I should be given $1000 every time I take one of these calls, I save this company a sick amount of $$$$.”
Another message from November 2015 notes that regulators were likely to want simulator training for a particular type of cockpit alert. “We are going to push back very hard on this and will likely need support at the highest levels when it comes time for the final negotiation,” one employee wrote.
A key attraction of the 737 Max, which has received 5,000 orders from airlines but is currently grounded worldwide, was that carriers could use it without needing to put pilots on costly simulator programmes. Boeing has now agreed to put pilots through simulator training if the plane is returned to service.