A new batch of Boeing internal documents related to the 737 Max jetliner paint “a very disturbing picture” regarding employees’ concerns about safety, a House committee reported Tuesday.
The latest documents were sent over late Monday, the same day Boeing said CEO Dennis Muilenburg resigned effective immediately after a string of troubling disclosures about the development of the latest version of the 737 jetliner grounded worldwide after two crashes.
Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has held a series of hearings about the 737 Max, acknowledged receiving the Boeing documents. They did not disclose the contents, saying they are under review.
But the Seattle Times reported the documents include more internal communications involving former Boeing 737 chief test pilot Mark Forkner, who, in records previously disclosed, described problems in the development of the flight-control system blamed in the two crashes. His 2016 missive to a colleague also talked of “basically” but unknowingly, lying to regulators.
A statement from the committee said the documents raise new, serious questions about the 737 Max.
“Staff are continuing to review these records, but similar to other records previously disclosed by Boeing, the records appear to point to a very disturbing picture of both concerns expressed by Boeing employees about the company’s commitment to safety and efforts by some employees to ensure Boeing’s production plans were not diverted by regulators or others,” it said.
Boeing, in response, acknowledged the latest documents could prove damaging.
The company said “as with prior documents referenced by the committee, the tone and content of some of these communications does not reflect the company we are and need to be.” But it said it released them in keeping with a policy of transparency.
Boeing didn’t offer an explanation as to why the documents were not previously disclosed.
The 737 Max was grounded shortly after the March crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight. In October 2018, a Lion Air 737 Max crashed into the Java Sea. Combined, the accidents killed a total of 346 passengers and crew.
In both cases, blame has focused on a new computerized system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS. The system was added to make the 737 Max fly like previous versions of the venerable jetliner despite having larger engines repositioned on the wings.
MCAS repeatedly pushed down the nose of the planes as pilots struggled to keep them up, eventually causing the aircraft to plummet earthward.
Boeing has been rewriting software to give pilots more direct control over MCAS, but the changes are yet to be approved by the FAA. Airlines have repeatedly pushed back the plane’s projected return to service. United Airlines now has taken 737 Max off its schedule until early June.