With the 737 MAX having been grounded globally since March, and with no real indication as to when the plane will be back in the sky, you’d think things couldn’t get much worse for Boeing.
Well, yesterday things got much worse for Boeing. What happened?
The Terrible Boeing 737 MAX Messages
Yesterday some instant messages from November 6, 2016, were revealed, between Mark Forkner, the 737 MAX’s chief technical pilot at the time, and his colleague, Rick Ludtke, a former Boeing engineering employee.
This conversation happened about four months before the FAA certified the 737 MAX in the first place, and unfortunately it points to very similar issues to what ended up downing two 737 MAX aircraft.
In general the conversation has a lot of things they probably wouldn’t want public, like:
- “nah, I’m locked in my hotel room with an ice cold grey goose, I’ll probably fire off a few dozen inappropriate emails before I call it a night”
- “I’d ask for a job in sales where I can just get paid to drink with customers and lie about how awesome our airplanes are”
But the real issue here pertains to problems with the plane, in particular the MCAS:
- “there are still some real fundamental issues that they claim they’re aware of”
- “MCAS is now active down to M2. It’s running rampant in the sim on me, at least that’s what Vince thinks is happening.”
- “so I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)”
- “I’m levelling off at 4000ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like craxy, I’m like, WHAT?”
- “granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious”
- “they’re all so damn busy, and getting pressure from the program”
All of these messages are of course really, really bad. This is such a big deal because these are the first publicly known observations that the MCAS was acting strangely during testing before the plane ever entered service.
Then There’s The Cover-Up
The added problem is that Boeing apparently didn’t share these messages with regulators for quite a long time. This has caused regulators to write a letter to Boeing demanding an explanation:
“Last night, I reviewed a concerning document that Boeing provided late yesterday to the Department of Transportation. I understand that Boeing discovered the document in its files months ago. I expect your explanation immediately regarding the content of this document and Boeing’s delay in disclosing the document to its safety regulator.”
Following this being made public, Forkner’s lawyer has said the following:
“The simulator was not reading right and had to be fixed to fly like the real plane.”
This suggests that there was a problem with the simulator rather than with the plane as such, though that seems questionable. That’s especially true when you consider Forkner said how they were getting “pressure from the program,” and also that there did end up being a real MCAS issue with the 737 MAX.
What Are The Real Implications Of This?
What remains to be seen is what the real life implications are of this revelation. This is the first known reference to problems with the MCAS, but what does that actually mean for the 737 MAX, and its return to service?
There are two parts of this — both that this was known before the plane was ever certified, and also that Boeing has apparently kept these messages from regulators for months. With that in mind:
- Could Boeing be facing massive fines for their negligence here?
- Could this greatly increase the compensation claims that airlines can legitimately make with Boeing?
- Could this impact the timeline with which the 737 MAX will return to service?
One thing that’s for sure is that this harms public trust in the 737 MAX even more. These messages suggest Boeing knew about the MCAS problems before the plane ever entered commercial service, and if that’s the case, then… wow.
We know that the FAA is taking their time with certifying the plane, but will this slow things down even further?
Unsurprisingly, Boeing stock was down nearly 7% yesterday.
How big of a deal do you think this latest revelation is?