Congress

Emails ensure Boeing scrutiny will continue, DeFazio says

Transportation and Infrastructure chairman questions whether the company has given his panel the ‘full picture’

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., speaks to a reporter in his office in the Rayburn House Office Building on Oct. 23, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The chairman of the committee investigating how the troubled Boeing 737 Max made its way through the Federal Aviation Administration flight certification process questioned on Friday whether the company has given his panel the “full picture” of the jet’s development, saying he believes Boeing may be trying to scapegoat lower-level employees.

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he will press Boeing attorneys to release more documents, saying he will continue the investigation into the crash even as his committee pushes toward legislation to prevent similar tragedies.

“None of the emails we’ve seen — 500,000 or so emails and other messages — have any indication that there’s a senior leadership at Boeing,” he said. “There’s a real question about, you know, are we getting the full picture here?”

The committee requested the documents shortly after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed last March, killing 157. An earlier October 2018 Lion Air flight killed 189. On Thursday, the company released 117 pages of documents, including damning messages questioning the safety of the aircraft, the culture of the company and ridiculing FAA regulators who were tasked with approving the plane.

But none of the exchanges appeared to include top Boeing management.

“Our request was very broad and it was not limited to technical line personnel or test pilots,” DeFazio said. “It was anyone within the organization who had communications regarding any of these issues which would go from the CEO on down.”

[Emails show Boeing employees derided FAA and worried about 737 Max simulators]

The emails and internal messages among Boeing employees released Thursday painted a picture of a company where employees were under tremendous pressure to get an aircraft they didn’t entirely have faith in approved by the FAA, while at the same time ensuring that the regulators didn’t require more costly simulator training of pilots who were flying the plane.

Employees discussed trying to essentially “jedi mind trick” regulators into approving the plane, with one Boeing employee darkly joking, “I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year.”

Though the 737 Max has been grounded since March, the CEO was fired in December and production halted by Boeing, DeFazio said his investigation into the aircraft will continue.

In the latest trove of internal messages, he said he was particularly alarmed by a 2013 thread where employees discussed how best to conceal the new MCAS steering system in order to avoid additional certification or training requirements. Company officials wrote of only referencing the new system internally, but calling it something else publicly.

“Starting in at least ’13 they were deliberately concealing the system,” DeFazio said. “It’s the first time I know of an automated flight control system that has been concealed deliberately by a manufacturer.”

A malfunction in the MCAS system — which was also not mentioned in flight manuals for the 737 Max — is believed to have been a factor in the October 2018 Lion Air crash and the March 2019 crash of the Ethiopian Airlines flight.

He said there was no timeline for introducing a bill but said, “I’m not anticipating a long delay,” and suggested he’d move forward even as the investigation continued.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., whose district includes the Boeing factory that built the 737 Max and who chairs the House Aviation Subcommittee of DeFazio’s committee, said Boeing had prolonged scrutiny by dragging out the release of the requested documents.

“If Boeing had been more forthcoming earlier on with this information and the emails and the messaging, we could have gotten solutions sooner,” he said. “We could have spared the women and men who design and manufacture this airplane the frustration and disruption of their lives and potentially we could have saved the lives of 346 people.”

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