FAA confronts Boeing over internal messages revealing flaws

DALLAS — A former senior Boeing test pilot told a co-worker that he unknowingly misled safety regulators about problems with a flight-control system that would later be implicated in two deadly crashes of the company’s 737 Max.

The pilot, Mark Forkner, told another Boeing employee in 2016 that the flight system, called MCAS, was “egregious” and “running rampant” while he tested it in a flight simulator.

“So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” wrote Forkner, then Boeing’s chief technical pilot for the 737.

The exchange occurred as Boeing was trying to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that MCAS was safe. MCAS was designed at least in part to prevent the Max from stalling in some situations. The FAA certified the plane without fully understanding MCAS, according to a panel of international safety regulators.

Forkner had asked FAA about removing mention of MCAS from the pilot’s manual for the Max. FAA allowed Boeing to do so, and most pilots did not know about MCAS until after the first crash, which occurred in October 2018 in Indonesia. The plane was grounded worldwide in March after the second crash, in Ethiopia.

Boeing turned over a transcript of the messages to Congress and the Transportation Department late Thursday, and the reaction was swift and negative.

“We have received hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from Boeing, but not this one. This was intentionally withheld from us, which is absolutely outrageous,” House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said in an interview Friday. He called it a smoking gun of Boeing wrongdoing.

FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson demanded an explanation from Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, including why the company delayed several months before telling FAA about the messages.

“I expect your explanation immediately regarding the content of this document and Boeing’s delay in disclosing the document to its safety regulator,” Dickson wrote in a terse, three-sentence letter to Muilenburg. In a statement, the FAA said it “finds the substance of the document concerning” and is deciding what action to take in response.

Boeing turned over the transcript to the Justice Department earlier this year gave it to Congress only this week in anticipation of Muilenburg’s scheduled Oct. 30 testimony before DeFazio’s committee, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Boeing, in a prepared statement, said the transcript contained the communications of a former employee. Although Boeing didn’t identify Forkner, he left last year and joined Southwest Airlines — the biggest operator of the Boeing 737.

Forkner’s lawyer, David Gerger, said that Forkner was indicating in messages to a colleague that the flight simulator was not working like the plane.

“If you read the whole chat, it is obvious that there was no ‘lie,”’ he said. “Mark’s career — at Air Force, at FAA, and at Boeing — was about safety. And based on everything he knew, he absolutely thought this plane was safe.”

The disclosure of the internal Boeing communications comes just a week after international regulators faulted the company for not doing more to keep FAA informed about MCAS, a new automated flight system that was not included in previous versions of the 737.

Before crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, MCAS was activated by a single faulty sensor and pushed the nose of each plane down. Pilots were unable to regain control. The idea that a plane could crash because of one bad sensor — with no backup — is emerging as a key criticism of Boeing’s design of the Max and FAA’s certification of the plane.

“We weren’t sure whether to blame FAA or Boeing or a combination” for the so-called single point of failure, DeFazio said. “Things have just tilted very, very heavily in terms of Boeing and deliberate concealment.”

Boeing is updating software and computers to tie MCAS to two sensors instead of one, and to make the nose-down command less powerful and easier for pilots to overcome.

Boeing issued a statement Friday afternoon, saying that its CEO had called FAA Administrator Dickson to respond to his concerns. “Mr. Muilenburg assured the Administrator that we are taking every step possible to safely return the MAX to service,” the company said.

Boeing shares tumbled $25.06, or 6.7%, to close at $344.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Trudeau cancels Caribbean trip amid pipeline protests

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is cancelling his planned trip to… Continue reading

Town of Ponoka facing lawsuit from pair of local residents

Ponoka town council members and administration have been served with a lawsuit… Continue reading

Trudeau confers with cabinet ministers as rail blockades continue

The Trudeau government has been criticized for not doing more to end the blockades

Minister reports ‘modest progress’ after blockade talks with First Nation

TYENDINAGA, Ont. — Hours of talks between the federal government and representatives… Continue reading

Red Deer County investing in fibre optics

County investing $7 million over two years to improve Internet connections

Fashion Fridays: Apple body types: What you need to know

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Your community calendar

Feb. 6 A Perogie Supper is being held Thursday, Feb. 6 from… Continue reading

Woman loses 50 pairs of shoes after boyfriend accidentally donates them to thrift store

Cassandra Converse can’t wait to go shoe shopping. Last month, Converse’s boyfriend… Continue reading

RDC Queens fall in double OT to MacEwan University Griffins

Griffins 4 Queens 3 (2OT) The RDC Queens managed to salvage a… Continue reading

Trump takes Daytona 500 warmup lap in presidential limousine

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump gave an election-year embrace to… Continue reading

Canada expected to support heavy fuel ban in Arctic despite costs to northerners

The federal government is expected to support international measures that would reduce… Continue reading

Nurses’ unions warn national standards for coronavirus protection too low

OTTAWA — The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions is warning that the… Continue reading

‘Sonic’ speeds to $57M debut; ‘Parasite’ sees big Oscar bump

NEW YORK — The redesigned “Sonic the Hedgehog” showed plenty of teeth… Continue reading

Justin Timberlake on ‘trauma’ of being pelted with bottles at SARS concert

TORONTO — Justin Timberlake is still haunted by being pelted with what… Continue reading

Most Read