Complex Made Simple

PR disaster: Boeing employees claim the 737 MAX was “designed by clowns”

Boeing deals with controversial employee conversations and commentary it has had to disclose to regulators.

Internal documentation submitted to regulators has painted a controversial image of the American planemaker Employees were discontent with the design of the 737-MAX, and as well as the handling of the FAA "Would you put your family on a Max simulator-trained aircraft?" one employee asked. "I wouldn't."

As if it weren’t enough that Boeing has been under the scrutiny of regulators, governments and the entire world following two tragic crashes that resulted in 346 deaths, its own employees have seemingly turned their backs on it.

A PR disaster

In a batch of internal corporate documentation consisting of employee emails, instant messaging, and more that the company submitted to “House and Senate committees that have been probing its design of the troubled 737 MAX plane,” as per CNN, employees of the American planemaker have derided the company’s handling of the troubled jet and Boeing’s interactions with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). 

The documents span multiple years, some in 2017 and 2018, others earlier, and the conversations aren’t always dated. However, they are consistent in shedding light on a troubled and controversial development cycle. 

According to the BBC, “messages that were emailed in April 2017, a month after the first version of the plane was certified, show one employee described the airplane as ‘designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.'”

“I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year,” one of the employees said in messages from 2018, apparently in reference to interactions with the Federal Aviation Administration, The New York Times reported.

The BBC shared another interaction: “Would you put your family on a Max simulator-trained aircraft? I wouldn’t.”

“No,” came the reply.

Fallout and damage control
The often crass internal communication has brought further embarrasment for Boeing, that had to apologize in turn. 

“We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the [Federal Aviation Administration], Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them,” the company said

Regardless, the disclosed internal communication shows a certain disconnect between Boeing and its employees, as well as a major rift between them and regulators.

“US House transportation committee chairman Peter DeFazio – who has been investigating the 737 Max – said the communications ‘show a co-ordinated effort dating back to the earliest days of the 737 Max programme to conceal critical information from regulators and the public,'” the BBC noted. 

The crux of Boeing’s argument is that the new 737 MAX was not so different from its predecessors, which they suggested would then only require tablet-based training, which the aforementioned employees were against. 

This was because extensive simulator training would have raised costs for the US manufacturer, as per the Business Standard

“Boeing’s costs would rise an estimated $5 billion if pilots needed to get simulator training before flying the 737 MAX, according to Bloomberg Intelligence,” the news site said.

Further to this issue, Boeing supposedly made little effort to inform airlines of its newly-added MCAS system, which was supposed to aid the jet in staying level mid-air. In reality, it was this faulty maneuvering system that caused both crashes in 2018 and 2019, and has been another blemish on Boeing’s now-spotted record. 

“Neither the Max training nor the flight manual disclosed the existence of a stabilization system known as MCAS, which was designed to operate in the background,” CNN explained.

It has been 11 months since 737 MAX jets worldwide have been grounded, causing huge losses for airlines across the world, as well as Boeing which has dropped 21% since then by mid-December of last year, wiping about $45 billion in market capitalization off the Dow component, according to CNBC.

While initially expected to return to the skies by late 2019, complicated investigations have pushed the 737 MAX’s return to a potential 2020 date, but nothing is set in stone just yet. 

In other news, Boeing was struck with another tragedy this week when a Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA) flight flying an older 737-800 model crashed minutes after liftoff from Iran. While initial speculation blamed an internal malfunction, which would have put more pressure on Boeing, the latest reports are pointing towards an attack on the jet by Iranian forces, though no solid proof has yet been presented.