The 737 MAX was poorly designed, Boeing cut as many corners as it could in conducting training, and employees viewed foreign pilots and regulators with contempt. Upwards of 400 dead people were the result:
Boeing released more than a hundred pages of documents to Congress on Thursday detailing internal messages that reveal how, during certification of the 737 MAX, company employees spoke of deceiving international air safety regulators and Boeing’s airline customers, and successfully fought off moves over several years to require anything but minimal pilot training for the new airplane.
The documents also confirm that Boeing rejected a proposed system safety upgrade to the MAX on the grounds that doing so would add cost by triggering a need for all pilots to have flight-simulator training to qualify to fly the MAX.
Just this week, Boeing finally relented and is now recommending flight-simulator training for all pilots before the MAX returns to service.
The documents also suggest that Boeing’s development of the simulators, working in Miami, Singapore, London and Shanghai with a new equipment supplier called TRU, was plagued with all sorts of technical problems.
And they show that Boeing planned to carefully present the new flight control software on the MAX that went haywire during the two crashes — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — as simply an extension of an existing system so as to avoid increased certification and pilot training impact.
The documents include derogatory references to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and foreign regulators, to simulator supplier TRU, and to airline customers.
“This airplane is designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys,” one Boeing pilot wrote to another in a 2017 exchange.
Boeing issued a profuse apology as it released the documents and promised to take disciplinary action against individuals involved.
The whole thing is worth reading.
Natasha Frost has another good story rooting the story in Boeing’s merger with McDonnell Douglas, which transformed Boeing’s more experimental, engineering driven corporate culture into one focused on short-term profits and share prices:
In a clash of corporate cultures, where Boeing’s engineers and McDonnell Douglas’s bean-counters went head-to-head, the smaller company won out. The result was a move away from expensive, ground-breaking engineering and toward what some called a more cut-throat culture, devoted to keeping costs down and favoring upgrading older models at the expense of wholesale innovation. Only now, with the 737 indefinitely grounded, are we beginning to see the scale of its effects.
“The fatal fault line was the McDonnell Douglas takeover,” says Clive Irving, author of Jumbo: The Making of the Boeing 747. “Although Boeing was supposed to take over McDonnell Douglas, it ended up the other way around.”
It wasn’t inevitable that this culture change would end up here…but it made it more likely.