- REUTERS/Abhirup Roy
- Boeing played down concerns over the 737 Max after one of the planes operated by Lion Air crashed in October, according to audio from a meeting shared by American Airlines’ pilots union.
- American Airlines’ pilots confronted Boeing, saying they wanted more information about the plane’s software and arguing that Boeing should immediately make fixes to the plane.
- A Boeing vice president, Mike Sinnett, said that it was not clear the plane caused the Lion Air crash and that “we try not to overload the crews with information that’s unnecessary.”
- In a statement to Business Insider, the head of the union said that “Boeing did not treat the 737 Max 8 situation like the emergency it was.”
- One pilot was critical of the lack of information about the software in the training manual and said: “I would think that there would be a priority of putting explanations of things that could kill you.”
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Boeing played down concerns about its 737 Max aircraft when pilots confronted the company after one of the planes operated by Lion Air crashed in October, with the company saying that giving additional information about the aircraft’s software was “unnecessary,” according to audio recorded of shared with Business Insider.
American Airlines’ pilots union challenged Boeing after the Lion Air crash, which killed all 189 people on board. In a November meeting, pilots said that they wanted more information about the plane they were flying and that Boeing needed to take more steps to ensure its safety, the audio shared with Business Insider by the Allied Pilots Association (APA) revealed.
A Boeing vice president, Mike Sinnett, responded that it was not clear the plane was the cause of the crash and that Boeing did not want to “overload the crews with information that’s unnecessary,” CBS News reported.
The Lion Air crash was followed less than five months later, however, by the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max, in which all 157 people on board were killed.
- Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
The 737 Max was grounded around the world after the second crash. Preliminary reports into the crashes, released after the American Airlines meeting, said the plane’s MCAS anti-stall software misfired in both crashes.
Pilots in the meeting demanded more information about the software system, saying that they had not been aware it was on the plane and that it was not disclosed in their training manuals.
The Times identified, Michael Michaelis, an American Airlines pilot who is the head of safety in the union, who said in recording: “These guys didn’t even know the damn system was on the airplane, nor did anybody else.”
The Times also identified Todd Wissing, another an American Airlines pilot, who said the system should have been explained in the aircraft’s training manual: “I would think that there would be a priority of putting explanations of things that could kill you.”
“We flat-out deserve to know what is on our airplanes,” another pilot said.
- Xinhua/ via Getty Images
Sinnett said Boeing felt pilots did not need to know more about the system, given how unlikely it was considered to misfire.
“I don’t know that understanding this system would’ve changed the outcome on this,” he said, according to the recording. “In a million miles, you’re going to maybe fly this airplane, maybe once you’re going to see this, ever. So we try not to overload the crews with information that’s unnecessary so they actually know the information we believe is important.”
But he also was quoted saying he did not “disagree” that pilots deserved to know what was on the plane.
CBS News reported that Sinnett did not appear to know that he was being recorded.
In April, after the second crash, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg defended not telling pilots about the system, 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.”
“It’s not a separate system to be trained on,” he said.
- Ed Wray/Getty Images
Boeing declined to comment to The Times specifically on the November meeting but provided a statement saying the company was “focused on working with pilots, airlines, and global regulators to certify the updates on the Max and provide additional training and education to safely return the planes to flight.”
In a statement to Business Insider, Captain Daniel F. Carey, the president of APA, said: “American Airlines pilots have been pressing Boeing for answers because we owe it to our passengers and the 346 people who lost their lives to do everything we can to prevent another tragedy.
“Boeing did not treat the 737 Max 8 situation like the emergency it was, and that’s why we took swift legal action demanding years of records related to the model and are working with lawmakers in Washington to ensure proper oversight of Boeing, the FAA, Airbus, American Airlines and all carriers.”
Boeing is working on a software fix that, when approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and regulators around the world, will most likely see the plane return to service.
But Michaelis urged Boeing at the November meeting to take action to fix the plane. He said Boeing should get the FAA to instruct Boeing and airlines to update the software, which most likely would have resulted in the plane being grounded temporarily, The Times reported.
Sinnett said that Boeing didn’t want “to rush and do a crappy job of fixing the right things and we also don’t want to fix the wrong things” and that Boeing was examining the plane’s design.
“For flight-critical software, I don’t think you want us to rush, rush it faster,” he said, adding that “the assumption is that the flight crews have been trained.”
Boeing has slowed production of the Max jets, and it has estimated that the issues surrounding the aircraft cost it at least $1 billion in the first quarter of the year. It has received no new orders for the aircraft since its grounding around the world, and it did not receive new orders for any of its aircraft models in April.
Boeing faces lawsuits from victims’ families and shareholders as well as federal investigations into how the plane was certified to fly by the FAA.
Muilenburg said Boeing would “earn and re-earn” flyers’ trust and pledged that the plane would be one of the safest ever when it returned to service, but at the same time he defended the design of the plane.
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