American aerospace giant, Boeing issued a statement late on Sunday saying it “regrets” a cache of instant messages that came to light late last week between two senior employees who were discussing technical issues with the 737MAX – two years before two deadly crashes involving the aircraft type that killed 346 passengers and crew. Investigators have pointed the finger of blame at the aircraft’s new flight control system dubbed MCAS.
A faulty sensor is said to have sent erroneous data to the MCAS system in both the 2018 Lion Air crash and this year’s Ethiopian Airlines accident. The MCAS system then apparently sent the two planes’s into a nosedive despite the best efforts of the pilots to correct the situation. Pilots say they were not given enough information about MCAS in order to diagnose and remedy a similar situation.
The trove of instant messages from November 2016 between Boeing’s then-chief 737 technical pilot, Mark Forkner and another technical pilot, Patrik Gustavsson reveal that Forkner had experienced similar issues with MCAS and may have misled aviation regulators.
“There are still some real fundamental issues (with MCAS),” Forkner wrote in the messages, going onto say the system was “running rampant in the sim on me”.
“I’m levelling off at like 4000 ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like crazy,” he continues.
At times, the two senior executives seem to be bantering with one another as Forkner explains that he had “basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)” about the problems he was experiencing with MCAS.
Responding to the messages that have been described by the FAA as “concerning”, Boeing said in a statement:
“We understand and regret the concern caused by the release Friday of a Nov. 15, 2016, instant message involving a former Boeing employee, Mark Forkner, a technical pilot involved in the development of training and manuals. And we especially regret the difficulties that the release of this document has presented for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators.”
Boeing claims the instant messages were actually handed over to regulators earlier this year and says it is “unfortunate” the messages couldn’t have been released in a way that allowed for “meaningful explanation”. Forkner’s lawyer has said the instant messages concerned the way the simulator was behaving rather than an inherent issue with MCAS.
“We are continuing to investigate the circumstances of this exchange, and are committed to identifying all the available facts relating to it, and to sharing those facts with the appropriate investigating and regulatory authorities.”
The 737MAX range of aircraft has been grounded worldwide since March and is currently going through a recertification campaign led by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). While Boeing still maintains that it is optimistic the aircraft will be cleared to fly by the end of the year, many operators have delayed reintrouding the aircraft until at least January or February pending approval. Regulators in other countries may take even longer to recertify the 737MAX.
“We are deeply saddened and have been humbled by these accidents, and are fully committed to learning from them,” Boeing reiterated in the new statement. Previously, the aircraft manufacturer said the 737MAX would be the safest plane ever to fly once it takes to the skies again.