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Boeing Employees Mocked FAA In Internal Messages Before 737 Max Disasters

Grounded Boeing 737 Max airplanes crowd a parking area in Seattle in June.
Elaine Thompson
Grounded Boeing 737 Max airplanes crowd a parking area in Seattle in June.

Updated at 9:58 p.m. ET

The latest documents Boeing has released related to the design and certification of the 737 Max paint a dark picture of employee reactions to problems that came up during the development of the now-grounded airliners.

The documents include emails and internal communications. In one message, employees mock the Federal Aviation Administration and brag about getting regulators to approve the jets without requiring much additional pilot training.

In another document, an employee ridicules colleagues involved in the development of the troubled plane, saying, "This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys."

Crashesof 737 Max airliners in 2018 and 2019 killed a total of 346 people.

Some of the most concerning messages involve discussions of problems with the company's Max flight simulators in which the company employees suggest they misled regulators about potential problems with the Max.

"I still haven't been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year," one employee says in 2018, referring to an exchange of information with the FAA.

Another damning exchange calls into question the safety of the 737 Max long before the plane was approved to fly passengers.

"Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn't," says one employee to another, who responds, "No."

House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., called newly released documents "incredibly damning," adding that "they paint a deeply disturbing picture of the lengths Boeing was apparently willing to go to in order to evade scrutiny from regulators, flight crews, and the flying public, even as its own employees were sounding alarms internally."

A Boeing official said the communications were written by a small number of employees, primarily Boeing technical pilots and personnel involved with the development and qualification of Boeing's 737 Max simulators. Some of them are the same employees involved in sending other damaging emails and internal messages that were disclosed last year.

The company official said the language used and sentiments expressed in these communications "are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response."

The FAA reviewed the documents for safety implications. "Our experts determined that nothing in the submission pointed to any safety risks that were not already identified as part of the ongoing review of proposed modifications to the aircraft," the FAA said in a statement.

The statement goes on to call the tone and some of the language contained in the documents "disappointing, [but] the FAA remains focused on following a thorough process for returning the Boeing 737 MAX to passenger service."

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David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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