A worker coils up the cord for a flight deck communications headset as a United Airlines Boeing 737 Max airplane prepares to take off Dec. 11 at Renton Municipal Airport. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A worker coils up the cord for a flight deck communications headset as a United Airlines Boeing 737 Max airplane prepares to take off Dec. 11 at Renton Municipal Airport. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Boeing documents sent to Congress called ‘very disturbing’

The records appear to show efforts to ensure production plans “were not diverted by regulators.”

By Steve Miletich / The Seattle Times

Internal documents newly provided by Boeing to a U.S. House committee investigating two fatal crashes of the 737 Max appear to portray a “very disturbing picture” of safety concerns raised by some employees and efforts by others to evade regulators, a spokeswoman for the committee said Tuesday.

The comments came a day after The Seattle Times reported that Boeing on Monday sent the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) additional documents discovered in its internal investigation into development of the 737 Max. The records included “troubling communications” that the company’s lawyers determined Boeing needed to disclose, according to a person familiar with the details.

“Boeing contacted the House Transportation Committee December 23rd in the late evening to transmit previously undisclosed documents related to the 737 Max,” committee spokeswoman Kerry Arndt said in an email Tuesday. “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.”

Arndt said the committee will continue to review the documents and other records provided by Boeing as part of its ongoing investigation into the crashes off Indonesia in October 2018 and in Ethiopia in March that together killed 346 people. The second crash led to the worldwide grounding of the plane, while Boeing has spent the ensuing nine months working to convince the FAA and foreign regulators that it has fixed problems with the plane.

Arndt did not provide details on the documents provided to the committee, which is led by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe, in an email, said, “Boeing proactively brought these communications to the FAA and Congress as part of our commitment to transparency with our regulators and the oversight committees.

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.”

Johndroe added, “We have made significant changes as a company in the past nine months to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture.”

The wording of Boeing’s email reflected a shift in tone since Boeing’s board fired CEO Dennis Muilenburg on Monday and replaced him with recently named Boeing Chairman David Calhoun.

Arndt confirmed, as reported in The Times’ story, that some of the documents include further messages from Mark Forkner, the Boeing pilot whose 2016 instant-message exchange with a colleague caused outrage when it was released in October.

Forkner, who now works for Southwest Airlines according to his LinkedIn post, was Boeing’s chief technical pilot for 737 during the development of the Max. The job of the pilot team he led was to test the Max flight control systems in a simulator and to determine the information and training that airline pilots would need to fly the airplane.

Forkner sent an email to an FAA official in March 2016 asking that information about the Max’s new flight-control software — known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — be omitted from the pilot manuals and not mentioned in pilot training. The FAA accepted the proposal.

In that loose conversation, during which Forkner was drinking vodka, he said MCAS had “run rampant” during simulator testing in 2016. Boeing said later he was referring to the simulator software being defective, rather than MCAS itself.

And in a separate 2016 email to an FAA official, Forkner joked that he was “doing a bunch of traveling … jedi-mind tricking (foreign) regulators into accepting the training that I got accepted by FAA.”

Forkner has refused to provide documents separately sought by federal prosecutors investigating the crashes, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, The Times reported Sept. 6, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Forkner’s attorney, David Gerger of Houston, has declined to comment.

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