Boeing Employees Said 737 MAX “Designed By Clowns”

Filed Under: Misc.

It seems like there’s no end in sight when it comes to the disaster which is the 737 MAX, as the plane has been grounded since March 2019 following two fatal crashes. Boeing now finally seems to be proactively cooperating with the FAA, realizing that trying to hide things and control the recertification timeline won’t get them anywhere.

Yesterday Boeing sent more than 100 pages of documents to the House and Senate committees regarding their probe into the 737 MAX, and this reveals more damning communication between Boeing employees.

“Clowns” and “monkeys” behind 737 MAX

Much of the 100+ pages of documents details internal communication between Boeing employees from 2017 and 2018, when the 737 MAX simulator was being developed and certified.

Here’s just some of the communication between Boeing employees that has been revealed:

  • In March 2017 a senior person on the 737 MAX team wrote “I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition,” and that “Boeing will not allow that to happen; we’ll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement” (this is in regards to the 737 MAX requiring separate simulator training, which Boeing was vehemently against as a money saving tactic, but which they’ve since changed their mind on)
  • In April 2017 (a month after the first version was certified), one employee described it as having “piss poor design,” and another described it as being “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys”
  • In February 2018, one employee asked “would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft?” and the other employee responded “no”

What Boeing says about these revelations

Boeing has issued a press release regarding the latest communications to be made public, saying the following:

We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them. We have made significant changes as a company to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture. The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response. This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.

Boeing also claims that the issues referenced in these communications “occurred early in the service life of these simulators,” and that major changes have been made since then.

Bottom line

At this point none of this communication comes as much of a surprise.

This entire 737 MAX fiasco has in my opinion done irreparable harm to Boeing’s reputation. For the longest time Boeing had a reputation for quality above all else, and I think in the minds of many, that’s no longer the case.

Admittedly this is a company with 150,000+ employees, and I believe most employees at the company care about the product and safety. But the fact that some employees had such major concerns about the quality of the product, and the plane was still put into service, speaks volumes about the company.

On top of that, it’s one thing if their response during the grounding had been good, but for months and months their sole focus was getting the plane back in the sky at any cost, rather than realizing the gravity of their mistakes.

Comments
  1. I hope the “ disciplinary or other personnel action” Boing promises in that statement is against the management that silenced the informed opinions of professionals, rather than agains those professionals themselves.

  2. Hearing stuff like this honestly makes me care less if Boeing ended up folding. I know that would never happen but it’s so incredibly frustrating the level of protection they seem to be afforded because their an American company. Could you imagine if this was airbus or one or both of those crashes occurred in the US? We’d be hearing about it nonstop with congressional monkey court investigations. There should be at a minimum jail time served. Instead the c suite will just leave via a golden parachute and the public left hanging wondering they should fly a max.

  3. i mean look, we’re talking 3-4 employees. there’re always gonna be miserable dudes who hate everyone around. After all there’re people who believe America is racist

  4. In any large company you will have a few people say this is crap or that is crap, even if the product was perfect, which, clearly, the 737-MAX is not.

    Are these folks engineers on the project? Lends credibility to the statements.
    Are these folks management? Secretaries? People with bad reviews?

    Without knowing who, the statements by themselves, mean nothing.

  5. And in all fairness Lucky, you are the one doing the damage to Boeing’s reputation. They f’ed up, no questions asked. They deserve to be scrutinized, the plane deserves to be on the ground for as long as it needs to be. But continuously pooping on greedy evil and terrible Boeing, yet failing to mention 2 airlines that sent the aircraft flying with faulty sensors and after previous problems annoys the crap out of me and I’m sure many others.

    It’s also an unfair assessment that Boeing just went full on greedy at the expense of human life. Decisions like this aren’t made this way. It wasn’t one guy thinking “Airbus made a better A320, f it, we’ll just quickly take a design that doesn’t work and make some money off of it”. It was a huge group of engineers, much smarter than you, me and everyone else in the comment section, studying designs for month who eventually said “We can pull it off by modifying the old plane”. And yeah, they f’ed up and now it’s getting fixed. But stop making a greedy monster out of the company and talk about the airlines for at least one second.

  6. But the 737 MAX is a piece of crap and those critical communications ring true. Sadly, the authors of said emails will probably be the ones to lose their jobs, when the idiots who designed a strapped together hunk of junk to be as cheap as possible to generate sales will not.

    Gone are the days when Boeing was revered like few other companies. Remember those “Airport” movies from the 70s (at least the original and II)? At several points in each film, it’s made clear that the 707 (747 in the sequel) were spectacularly built marvels of engineering. At the time, everyone could agree on that and be thankful to Boeing. Now they are looked upon as hucksters. And that is sad.

  7. @ Syd — To be clear, my assessment that Boeing was full-on greedy refers to their response after the two fatal crashes (which is why I also said “it’s one thing if their response during the grounding had been good”). Do you disagree with that assessment?

    Let’s keep in mind Boeing’s CEO called Trump while other regulators were banning the 737 MAX to urge him not to do the same, saying the plane is safe. That’s only one of a countless number of examples of how Boeing’s priorities were to keep the plane in the sky (and get it back into the sky once it was grounded).

    Do you disagree?

  8. Boeing’s presser tells you all you need to know about how their culture operates:

    “… The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response. This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.”

    Are you freaking kidding me? 2 of your planes are dust along with its occupants and you’re worried about your own people calling it like it is and being honest about how badly designed the aircraft was?

    If I’m a shareholder I don’t want to hear that shit. I want to hear that Boeing can take responsibility for its mistakes and not decide that the solution is to let Karen from HR loose on a handful of what seem like the only honest people a the company.

  9. No disagreement their response could’ve been and should’ve been a lot more human. Although again – if the blame was proportionately delivered to the public by people like you – their initial response starts to make more sense.
    In any case, I don’t see how it cancels the fact you’re continuously presenting the story in a very one sided fashion. Don’t you think the response of the airlines(at least one of them with extremely questionable safety record) should’ve been a little better than “We good, Boeing bad” and completely quietly zoom out of the conversation?

  10. As someone who used to work at Boeing (and got out as quickly as they could) none of this comes as a surprise. It amazed me the company was able to build aircraft that flew and it was only a matter of time until something like this happened

  11. @Syd,

    The problem is that we keep getting more and more damning information – whether it be that management was clearly driven by factors that supplanted safety, that there were attempts to hide or limit evidence to that fact from regulators or customers, that personnel involved with the design and/or construction were leery of the quality of the design itself, or that top brass was trying to exert pressure on regulators to keep planes in the air. There was not just a singular, not-so-bad revelation that folks – Ben included – keep harping on; rather, new information comes out with alarming frequency that continues to paint Boeing in a new and worse light.

  12. @Endre, although it’s a similar system with the same name, there is at least one notable different: MCAS on the KC-46 uses two sensors. If MCAS on the MAX used two sensors, the crashes might never have happened. But yey, at least we found something that works on the KC-46!

  13. AR – if Lion Air received 7% of the attention Boeing did, you would’ve heard the information and facts just as damning.

  14. Thing is – not fun and doesn’t pay the dollar to poop on Lion Air, when you can blame a big American corporation for all the issues in the world.

  15. @Syd I don’t think you have a full grasp of the situation, or else are intentionally engaging in a bad faith argument.

    The airlines involved in the two crashes did have safety issues in the past. A few of the pilots were not world class at least by their hours.

    But that is pretty much irrelevant here. US pilots, including Sully, have repeatedly said they may not have been able to recover on the single-sensor MAX jets.

    The pilots didn’t even have a chance because Boeing intentionally withheld information on MCAS. It’s total hogwash to say they could just immediate diagnose runaway stabilizer and recover.

    Boeing has put profit ahead of safety countless times. Their balance sheet isn’t all that strong, and commercial will likely end up being split off in restructuring.

    What they did is beyond despicable, and to nitpick about what the doomed pilots could have done, or to arrogantly assume US pilots would have done better, is to be ignorant or intentionally missing the point.

  16. @Syd:

    That’s apples and oranges (or at least a pretty dissimilar type of other apple – Granny Smith and Fuji, maybe?). Lion Air is not responsible for the design and construction of the airframe – they’re a customer that has to take certain things at face value as to the safety and reliability of a new product. This is also where the FAA is to blame since many smaller countries follow the FAA’s lead when it comes to certification. The incestuous relationship between aircraft manufacturers, airlines, and their regulators is alarming but unavoidable to a degree.

    What Lion Air is lacking, though, is the growing scandal based on multiple accounts of: disinformation to customers/regulators, the sidelining of safety (practices and equipment) to maximize profits, being dismissive of their own engineers’ concerns, or having a corporate culture that’s seemingly punitive towards those who speak out. And that’s not just the kangaroo court that is an uninformed public acting as jury whilst being spoon-fed whatever “the liberal, anti-Boeing media” wants them to believe. This is Boeing begrudgingly providing documentation to regulators that’s damning. It’s current and former employees speaking out about the toxicity of the corporate culture surrounding the MAX program. It’s non-Boeing pilots voicing their concerns on the safety of the aircraft. Airlines do hold a modicum of blame, yes, but where do you draw the line when there have clearly been multiple red flags in the design and construction process that were willfully ignored?

  17. Nick – lmao you realize you literally just did the exact thing I blamed Lucky for? I admitted, on multiple occasions, that Boeing messed things up, big time. I also said that Lucky and now you as well prefer to completely skip the other side of the story. There were 350+ jets in service. None others crashed.
    It needs to be investigated and it’s being done – why Boeing didn’t make pilots aware of MCAS and why such a system doesn’t have multiple protection layers. But MCAS isn’t supposed to trigger under regular circumstances on a healthy airplane. Did the MCAS bring the plane down? Yes. Would it have triggered if the plane didn’t take off with a faulty sensor? No.
    I will fly a Southwest MAX any day and time over a Lion Air 737NG, A320, A350, 777, Space Shuttle Atlantis.
    And yeah, if you ask me, It is pretty despicable to paint such a one sided picture of what happened.

  18. rhetorical, but why does Boeing continue to manufacture the plane if the plane? No indication of when the plane will fly again, if ever.

  19. @Syd
    The claim of one star rating has been proven as fake as IATA does not rate airlines
    Airlineratings.com gave Lion Air a rating of 6 out of 7 before its rating was suspended due to the crash
    https://www.businessinsider.com/lion-air-rumor-lowest-safety-rating-untrue-2018-11

    Lion Air did have safety issues in the past but there are no evidence that they are an unsafe airline in 2018. On the other hand, it has been fairly well established that the plane itself has multiple major safety issues that directly contributed to the crash.

    As for pilot training, recent communications uncovered shows that it was also Boeing that actively pushed airlines, in particular Lion Air, not to provide additional training to pilots because Boeing doesn’t want to create any perception that such training is needed
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/willhorton1/2020/01/10/boeing-persuaded-lion-air-to-forgo-simulator-training-for-737-max-pilots/#74e9b57e3a51

    Also the angle of attack sensor that was improperly repaired and contributed to the crash was repaired by a repair shop in Florida. At the end, the airline is still responsible for any third party contractor and there were multiple failed opportunities for them to discover the defective sensor.

    I’m not absorbing Lion Air of any fault, yes they’ve made mistakes, but those were unintentional. On the other hand Boeing intentionally put unsafe planes in the air to squeeze out some extra $$ that end up resulting in two plane crashes and over 300 death

  20. Paul,
    How exactly do you imagine this conversation went?
    – Hey man, let’s quickly make a cheap plane and who cares about safety.
    – Hell yeah, let’s do it, screw those flying suckers.
    That’s the picture you’re creating. Well, it’s not how things are done. Thousands of extremely competent engineers, proud professionals, who just like all of us value human life above all built that plane because they were sure they can pull off that modification. It took them years of work and before that months of studying and deliberation. And yeah, they messed up, it happens. And now they’re getting punished for it.
    But you’re not going to convince me that Lion Air is somehow a less greedy establishment and that they are not to share a big chunk of the blame. Speaking of which, at Lion Air that exact convo prolly happened.
    – Hey man, there’s a sensor not working, I tried to fix it but still not working.
    – Screw it, mark it done, what’s the worst thing that can happen.

  21. The email contents and Boeing’s response made me think of step 1 in the 12 steps of NA. It goes something like this, modified by me to fit the Boeing narrative: We admit that we were powerless over our addiction [to extend the 737 and keep the sales flowing]; that our [corporate] life had become [focused on feeding the addiction].

  22. Look, I just want to know when I will be receiving my daily newsletter via email again, cuz having to come to the website and search for new articles is a P.I.T.A.

    please lucky do something.

  23. Guys

    There is no confuse here about the huge lose people suffered from weather the families or Boeing’s employees! However you can build your whole argument on newspaper analysis!!!! It has been a collaboration of many factors/mistakes that was done by the airlines and Boeing! The airlines can spend ages blaming Boeing cause they simply can for Boeing is the supplier here! On the other hand Boeing can’t come out to the whole world and blame their customers!!! What does that says about the client privacy, rights and reputation!!! You simply can’t shoot yourselves in the head and bring up evidence that put your customers out of business!! We are all educated adults here! As for those conversations it’s only common that not everyone has 1 solid opinion about any product! Not to mention that at this point I won’t be surprised if one day we found out that Boeing was framed by its own employees/competitors! It’s a possibility! As Syd said it’s easy and profitable to blame the American monster

  24. Lucky, spot on. Boeing’s response was not sorry this happened, but sorry we are in this position, shareholders.

  25. @syd – just curious if that would be your response if your family was on either of those people? So they just f’ed up huh?

  26. @Syd – Why would US media give significant attention to Lion Air? It’s a regional airline that doesn’t operate here and few Americans had ever heard of aside from this one crash. Boeing is a large, US-based company familiar to most of us that bears responsibility for BOTH crashes. Plus, Boeing is subject to US congressional investigation, while Lion Air is not, which is the precise source of this current round of reporting.

    In short US media is reporting on what’s most relevant to US consumers based on information available primarily in the US. This should be obvious and is a completely valid reason for Lucky and others to focus on Boeing to the near-exclusion of Lion Air.

  27. Boe and Allan might think it’s a fresh joke, but reality is the biggest thing I had to do with Boeing was being in a 787 3 weeks back and 777 three weeks before that and a 737 a week before 777. That’s just called common sense, and common hypocrisy. Better question is what are yall on Boeing’s payroll, obviously you know how things work.

  28. It’s interesting that the person who was directly responsible for the incredibly poor design decisions in the MCAS system that lead to these crashes has never been named. As a former software designer myself, it seems unbelievable that the design was finalized as it was. Somebody in the bowels of Boeing is responsible for that design.

  29. I’ve worked in government, small companies and larger defense contractors over 30+ years. Sadly some things are true:

    1. Lots of managers are bad. Technically, personality wise, etc. They treat people like crap and only care about their pay and getting promoted and won’t tell upper management anything but what they want to hear.

    2. Sadly there are a lot of technical people (computer science, engineers, etc.) that somehow got a degree but having no problem solving skills, can’t get much of anything done, etc.

    I’ve argued for things in various companies and it was obvious companies had no interest of improving things and didn’t want to hear about anything, so I gave up. Fortunately I’ve never worked on aircraft but instead more communications systems and some other stuff.

    Also it isn’t uncommon for employees to say negative things about management. In some cases justified and in others, no so justified.

    The most frustrating thing that I see is Boeing’s insistence on not using a flight simulator as well as basing MCAS on a single sensor and not making it trivial to turn off the system. My understanding is that when the pilots did so, it kept coming back on. Not sure whether that is true since I’m no pilot but that is very troubling.

    And anyone that is in the business knows, the people removed or associated with issues, unless they are low on the totem pole, will still get their money. It is sad that people died in two accidents that were entirely preventable.

  30. Jerry lol.

    Shawn – it terrifies me to even think of that. I don’t ever want to be in that position and wouldn’t wish it for my enemies. But by that specific logic, I’d be blaming Lion Air first and Boeing second. Faulty system was installed by Boeing, yes. But it got activated because of maintenance issues at Lion Air. If Lion Air did proper maintenance – the plane wouldn’t have crashed.
    I’d be vehemently hating both of them. Which is the only thing I’m asking for here. I’m not defending Boeing. I’m saying why Boeing is the only one getting blamed for what clearly is a serious of major problems and misfortunes on both ends.

  31. @syd – That is absolutely incorrect. The crashes were a direct result of Boeing design flaw and their come hell or high water no simulation training was needed belief. The fact they police themselves is partly to blame at all. But to put any blame on lion air pilots who tried everything they could to keep a faulty plane from falling out of the sky is absurd. Maintenance had nothing to do with it.

    This is why they’re grounded. A design flaw. Not a maintenance one. As Bills Eilish would say “duh”.

  32. Surely the priority for the FAA should be:

    1. Review how Boeing constructs test regimes to ensure that all potential failures, especially single points of failure, are tested.

    2. Compare that with the test regimes for planes which are still flying. If there are untested items on those airframes, ground them.

    3. Then, and only then, consider the case of the 737 MAX. It has already been grounded so should be much less of a priority for regulators than other aircraft.

    That looks nothing like the priority for Boeing, of course, but the more that comes out of Boeing the more concern it raises that the MAX isn’t a unique aberration.

  33. I’m an engineer with several engineer friends who work at Boeing, and I have to say that this was a long time coming. Boeing’s upper management has made every effort to isolate themselves from the engineers who design their products since 1997. For context, here is an in-depth article of how the company has changed over the past two decades: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/11/how-boeing-lost-its-bearings/602188/

    For all of those who are so quick to blame the engineers, there was no shortage of pushback and concerns voiced by the MAX designers and testers. This has been documented many times over the past year, with the communications mentioned in Lucky’s being the latest. Boeing’s upper management team pressured their engineers to turn a blind eye and get the plane finished in order to maximize profit. As a relatively powerless engineer at Boeing, would you continue to protest management’s decisions, knowing that doing so could cost you your job?

    @Syd Yes there is some blame on Lion Air and Ethiopian for taking off with faulty sensors, and yes those sensors should have been repaired on the ground, but the blame mostly falls on Boeing for designing a plane with no sensor redundancy and for failing to provide proper training on the plane’s new systems

    You took issue with this narrative being presented: “Hey man, let’s quickly make a cheap plane and who cares about safety,” but it’s relatively accurate. They wanted to make a plane similar enough to something they already had in order to cut costs. They wanted a familiar plane that they could market easily in order to maximize sales. I have to wonder how many 737 MAX iterations and budgets were presented to management, where they then objected to safety measures and redundancies due to what they perceived as excessive costs.

    There seems to be a consensus on the engineering side of Boeing that there was very little confidence in the safety of the aircraft at all.

  34. Omg! What’s the rule here! If you are not with me then you are against me!!! Syd brings a very logical and fair argument! Either you open up your mind to answer those questions and think or let this be open 2 street conversation without pointing fingers! Boeing has its own share of blame but so does the airlines! Be fair

  35. Jerry – It’s not that we glossed over it, it’s that it’s pointless to bring up. The typical person making that claim would be a paid up MAGA hat wearing Trump supporter.

    If you can’t even get them to stop crying about how awful it is that people are blaming the aircraft manufacturer for a faulty aircraft design instead of a random airline, do you think you’ll get anywhere convincing them America is deeply racist!?

    And yes Syd, Boeing did sit around and deliberately design a less safe aircraft to save money. I fully accept that they didn’t INTEND for that less safe design to cause fatalities, but you’re a moron if you think retrofitting an old frame with engines that cause it to be unbalanced unless a secret system makes the correct adjustments based on readings from a single sensor doesn’t reduce safety.

  36. @ Syd:
    “It’s also an unfair assessment that Boeing just went full on greedy at the expense of human life.”

    It’s EXACTLY that ! But it’s not surprising that Boeing employees in disguise maintain it’s not, against every single indicator pointing to it.

  37. If I’m reading the post correct isn’t the “paper” trail in question critiquing the job the folks who worked in the simulator did? Do we know why the criticism was made? Bad programming? Bad construction? Bad design? Did the people who thought the simulator was bad also think the aircraft was bad? Too many questions without answers. This feels more like an attempt to pile on Boeing rather then actually offer any quality insight.

  38. Hey Syd. What a shocker! Emails show Lion Air wanted simulator training and Boeing pushed them not to take it.

  39. I don’t know the context of all the employee comments, so can’t really judge anything by them.
    But overall it is bad enough that Boeing screws up things and lobbies for less oversight that they continue the sale of 737 MAX and conglomerates like IAG sign LOI for 200 737 MAXes.
    Just goes to show that companies don’t mind making a mockery of people’s lives and regulatory procedures for a few headlines and some $s.
    That’s where Boeing lost me.

  40. I believe that Boeing has dug a hole that they can’t escape from. Their reputation is permanently stained and with very good reason. The best thing that they can do is to recall every last Max and scrap them while going hammer and tong to build a new clean sheet of paper replacement. Take the financial hit and reestablish their creditability by building a fantastic new airplane. It’s the only way to move forward.

  41. @Syd, the whole “whataboutism” approach in a circumstance where so many people died is in very poor taste.

    Losing respect and placing blame on Boeing does not make anyone automatically remove blame from Lionair, they are not mutually exclusive. As other posters have mentioned, Lionair is irrelevant to most of us, Boeing is most definitely not. Additionally, the level of arrogance, manipulation, corruption (by Boeing and FAA) and deception seems much higher with Boeing than Lionair could ever be.

    This seems to be a pretty unanimous/bipartisan consensus regarding Boeing. In fact, Donald Trump of all people was one of the first people to condemn Boeing’s actions. Not sure how you have spun this into some America smear campaign….Boeing has dug their own grave on this one and doesn’t need anyone’s help.

  42. Ok armchair regulators, most of you know zero about aircraft and designing them. Most of you who work for the corporate or government all know the immense pressure to not make waves. I have yet been at a company where people didn’t bitch about the product, insisting the other plants/sites/shifts are full of idiots ect. If you are reading this on any device at all, the people who work at the plants think everyone else is a freaking moron and are amazed that their chips work. Granted computers aren’t planes. Boeing screwed the pooch by gaming the frame one last time instead of a new build. But they have to answer to regulators, banks, institutions (if you have a pension 401 etc, your likely a shareholder of boeing). Life sucks and mistakes are made. In America a corporation can’t come out and say “we screwed the pooch” or even sorry because every ambulance chasing lawyer will be suing them. Remember the last sentence the next time you think about calling a lawyer or thinking someone should be sued. you’re as much of the problem as boeing management

  43. @Karina

    Thank you for sharing the link to the article in the Atlantic – a real eye opener! Made it very clear that this debacle was not an accident but the predictable result of decades of mismanagement and corruption.

    My key takeaway from all this is that I will not only avoid the 737 Max but also the 787 going forward.

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