Boeing tries to dig itself out of a hole

Manufacturer says texts purportedly showing the company knew of MCAS problems as long ago as 2016 were actually referring to a problematic simulator programme and not the actual MCAS system.

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Boeing, which is facing unprecedented pressure from the disaster that is the 737 MAX, is trying walk back news that it might have known about problems with the plane’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that has been implicated in two crashes that killed 346 people.

The company on Sunday (20 October) said that instant messages sent between two senior company pilots that appeared to show the plane maker knew about the MCAS problems as long ago as 2016 were in actuality describing problems with the simulator programme the pilots were using and not the actual MCAS system.

What others are saying:

The messages were sent in 2016 between the two lead technical pilots on the Boeing 737 MAX programme. They were only released after investigators looking into Boeing’s 737 MAX development slammed the company for not releasing them sooner and they reveal that the system was “behaving aggressively and strangely in the pilots’ simulator sessions”, according to a Seattle Times report. In the exchange, one of the pilots states that given the behaviour of the system…he had unknowingly lied to the FAA about its capabilities. “It’s running rampant in the sim on me,” 737 chief technical pilot Mark Forkner wrote to Patrik Gustavsson, who would succeed him as chief technical pilot. “I’m levelling off at like 4000 ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like craxy. I’m like, WHAT?” (Spelling errors in the original.) “Granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious,” Forkner added.

Boeing, in its 20 October statement, said “we understand and regret the concern caused by the release Friday of a Nov. 15, 2016 instant message involving a former Boeing employee, Mark Forkner, a technical pilot involved in the development of training and manuals.  And we especially regret the difficulties that the release of this document has presented for the US Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators. It is unfortunate that this document, which was provided early this year to government investigators, could not be released in a manner that would have allowed for meaningful explanation. While we have not been able to speak to Mr. Forkner directly about his understanding of the document, he has stated through his attorney that his comments reflected a reaction to a simulator program that was not functioning properly, and that was still undergoing testing.  We are continuing to investigate the circumstances of this exchange, and are committed to identifying all the available facts relating to it, and to sharing those facts with the appropriate investigating and regulatory authorities.”

“We understand entirely the scrutiny this matter is receiving, and are committed to working with investigative authorities and the US Congress as they continue their investigations. We are deeply saddened and have been humbled by these accidents, and are fully committed to learning from them.  We have developed improvements to the 737 MAX that will ensure that accidents like these can never happen again, and are committed to continuing to work closely with the FAA and global regulators to ensure the MAX’s safe return to service.”

Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing.

With no clear date on when the 737 MAX will return to service, if it does at all, Boeing has also been making moves to shore up its public image as that of a company dedicated to safety as more news seeps out that leads many to believe the company put profits over people when it came to developing the MAX. Boeing’s board has already stripped the chairman’s title from CEO Dennis Muilenburg and there is speculation that he may soon be forced out completely from the company. Muilenburg is scheduled to testify before Congress on 30 October. Boeing is also under criminal investigation in the wake of the two crashes that killed so many passengers.

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