- Internal messages from Boeing employees reveal that one called Lion Air, the airline involved in the first fatal 737 Max crash, “idiots” for wanting simulator training for its pilots.
- Lion Air inquired about the training, prompting an employee in 2017 to say it might be “because of their own stupidity,” according to reports by Bloomberg and Forbes.
- A Lion Air Boeing 737 Max plane crashed and killed all 189 people on board in October 2018, and the final incident report pointed partly to the plane’s technology and how pilots were not fully trained to deal with it.
- Boeing sold the plane on the basis that pilots who could already fly previous 737 models would not need simulator training, making it cheaper and faster for airlines to introduce it to their fleets.
- It relented this month, saying it would recommend pilots train in simulators before flying Max planes.
- The messages were part of a drove of documents released by Boeing, which showed employees talking about concerns with the plane but still pushing its production forward.
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Boeing employees called the airline involved in the first fatal crash of a Boeing 737 Max plane crash “idiots” for wanting training before the airline started to fly the plane model.
Internal messages between Boeing employees revealed that employees were alarmed when Lion Air inquired about its pilots getting training in a simulator before they started to fly the new plane model.
The messages, released by Boeing, are redacted, but the US House transportation committee gave Bloomberg some excerpts with Lion Air’s name unredacted. Forbes also identified Lion Air as the subject of the messages.
The messages, which mocked the airline’s inquiry, came as Boeing also convinced Lion Air that such training was not necessary – an idea Boeing used as a key selling point to airlines – both outlets reported.
They are from June 2017, the same month when Lion Air asked Boeing about additional training.
In one exchange, an unnamed employee wrote: “Now friggin [Lion Air] might need a sim to fly the MAX, and maybe because of their own stupidity. I’m scrambling trying to figure out how to unscrew this now! Idiots.”
A colleague responded: “WHAT THE F%$&!!!! But their sister airline is already flying it!” – apparently a reference to the Malaysian carrier Malindo Air, which was already flying the plane.
Lion Air did not comment on whether it was the carrier named in the messages, but people familiar with the exchanges told Bloomberg that Lion Air had inquired about simulator training before accepting Boeing’s line that it was not necessary.
One of Lion Air’s Boeing 737 Max planes then crashed in October 2018, killing all 189 people on board.
The final report into the crash criticized Boeing’s design of the plane and criticized the manufacturer for not telling airlines about new software on the plane that malfunctioned during both the Lion Air crash and another one months later.
An Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed in March, killing all 157 people on board. The crash resulted in the Max planes being grounded around the world, where they still remain at a cost of billions of dollars to airlines and Boeing.
Boeing is still seeking regulatory approval for upgrades it has made to the plane that would let it fly again.
Boeing had pushed back against the idea of simulator training as unnecessary
Boeing had argued that additional training was not necessary for pilots because of the plane’s similarity to previous Boeing 737 models, making its adoption cheaper and quicker for airlines and thus a more attractive purchase.
In a March 2017 internal email released in the documents, Boeing’s 737 chief technical pilot wrote:
“I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition from NG to MAX. Boeing will not allow that to happen. We’ll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement.”
American pilots have been critical of Boeing for not telling airlines about the new software, known as MCAS.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who was later fired, also defended the communication about the software after the second crash by saying it was “embedded” into the way pilots handled the plane and so “when you train on the airplane, you are being trained on MCAS.”
Forbes reported that Lion Air had inquired about its pilots getting one simulator session and 24 hours of classroom time before flying the plane.
Boeing reversed its position only this month, saying it would recommend pilots train in simulators before flying Max planes once it returns to service.
One analyst then noted that this could up the cost for airlines – which are already struggling under the cost of the Max crisis – and removes one of the airlines’ main incentives for buying the plane.
Jonathan Raviv, a Citi analyst, said in a research note: “This erodes one of the key selling points of the Max in the first place.”
A series of messages show employees were concerned about the plane but let it go to production
More than 100 pages of documents obtained by Reuters showing employee discussions about the Max plane reveal that some employees were aware of issues with the plane.
Two Boeing employees said eight months before the first crash that they wouldn’t let their families fly on the 737 Max.
And one employee said in May, after both crashes: “I still haven’t been forgiven by god for the covering up I did last year. Can’t do it one more time. The Pearly gates will be closed.”
Another employee wrote: “This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”
Relatives of those killed on the planes described the release of the documents in harrowing terms to Business Insider.
Chris Moore, the father of Danielle Moore, 24, who was killed, said that he spent “an agonizing night” thinking about the messages and that the families of those killed were the “punch line” of a joke among Boeing staff.
Boeing said the communications “do not reflect the company we are and need to be” and were “completely unacceptable”:
“We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them. We have made significant changes as a company to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture.
“The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response. This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.”
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