Contempt for regulators, airlines and their colleagues coupled with a casual approach to safety – a series of emails by Boeing employees paint an unflattering portrait of a company culture of “arrogance” imbued with a fixation on cost-cutting.
The emails underscored the task awaiting incoming CEO David Calhoun who took the company’s reins on Monday, under intense pressure to restore public confidence – and that of aviation regulators worldwide – after two fatal crashes of the 737 Max aircraft.
The emails were contained in some 100 pages of documents dated between 2013 and 2018 and transmitted to US lawmakers by the Seattle-based aviation giant. The messages were seen after their release on Thursday.
Often cutting, dismissive, mocking or cavalier, the messages show that Boeing’s current difficulties reach far beyond the 737 Max, shining a light on a level of dysfunction that seems almost unimaginable for a company that helped democratise air travel – and which builds the US president’s iconic Air Force One aeroplane.
The emails show that Boeing tried to play down the role of its Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight-control system in order both to avoid the costs involved in having to train pilots on the system in flight simulators and to speed the federal green-lighting of the Max plane.
Investigators singled out the role of the MCAS in the fatal crashes of Max planes flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air (October 29, 2018) and Ethiopian Airlines (March 10, 2019).
Those crashes claimed 346 lives and led to the plane’s worldwide grounding last March.
“I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required,” one Boeing employee messaged a colleague on March 28, 2017, a few months before the Max received federal certification.
The message went on: “Boeing will not allow that to happen. We’ll go face-to-face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement.”
A few months later, the same employee – a test pilot – bragged about having “save[d] this company a sick amount of $$$$.”
The names of most of the employees who sent the messages were blacked out.
In 2018, several employees working on the Max simulators complained of encountering numerous technical difficulties.
“Would you put your family on a Max simulator-trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” said a message sent in February 2018, eight months before the first crash.
“No,” a colleague agreed.
Two other employees said they were concerned about the impact on Boeing’s image at a time, they said, when the company’s leaders seemed obsessed with the idea of gaining ground on Airbus’s narrow-body A320neo.
“All the messages are about meeting schedule, not delivering quality,” one employee said.
A colleague replied: “We put ourselves in this position by picking the lowest-cost supplier and signing up to impossible schedules.
“Why did the lowest-ranking and most unproven supplier receive the contract? Solely because of the bottom dollar.”