Boeing played down concerns about a second crash involving its 737 Max plane when pilots confronted it after the first fatal crash, and said that giving them additional information about the aircraft’s software was “unnecessary,” according to audio obtained by CBS News and The New York Times.
American Airlines’ pilots union challenged Boeing after a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max crashed in October 2018, killing all 189 people on board. Pilots said that they wanted more information about the plane they were flying and said that Boeing needed to take more steps to ensure its safety, according to the audio.
Boeing Vice President Mike Sinnett responded saying that it was not clear that the plane was the cause of the crash, and said that Boeing did not want to “overload the crews with information that’s unnecessary,” CBS News reported.
The Lion Air crash was the first deadly crash involving the plane, and was followed by an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crashing and killing all 157 people on board in March 2019.
The 737 Max was then grounded around the world and the preliminary reports into the crashes, released after the American Airlines meeting, said that the plane’s MCAS anti-stall software misfired in both crashes.
Pilots in the meeting demanded more information about the software system, and said that they had not been aware that it was on the plane and that it was not included in their training manuals, The New York Times reported.
According to the New York Times, Michael Michaelis, an American Airlines pilot and the head of safety in the union, said: “These guys didn’t even know the damn system was on the airplane, nor did anybody else.”
Todd Wissing, also an American Airlines pilot, reportedly said that the system should have been explained in the training manual: “I would think that there would be a priority of putting explanations of things that could kill you.”
Another pilot said “We flat out deserve to know what is on our airplanes,” according to CBS News.
Sinnett said that Boeing felt pilots did not need to know more about the system, given how unlikely it was to misfire.
“I don’t know that understanding this system would’ve changed the outcome on this. In a million miles, you’re going to maybe fly this airplane, maybe once you’re going to see this, ever. So we try not to overload the crews with information that’s unnecessary so they actually know the information we believe is important,” he said, according to the recording obtained by CBS.
But he also said that he did not “disagree” that pilots deserved to know what was on the plane.
CBS News reported that Sinnett did not appear to know that he was being recorded.
In April, after the second crash, Boeing CEO Denis Muilenburg defended not telling pilots about the system, saying that it was “embedded” into the way pilots handle the plane, and so “when you train on the airplane, you are being trained on MCAS.”
“It’s not a separate system to be trained on,” he said.
Boeing declined to comment to The New York Times specifically on the November meeting, but provided a statement saying: “We are focused on working with pilots, airlines and global regulators to certify the updates on the Max and provide additional training and education to safely return the planes to flight.”
The company is currently working on a software fix that, when approved by the FAA and regulators around the world, will likely see the plane return to service.
But Michaelis urged Boeing to take action to fix the plane at the November meeting. He said that Boeing should get the Federal Aviation Administration to instruct Boeing and airlines to update the software, which would have likely resulted in the plane being grounded temporarily, The New York Times reported.
Sinnett said Boeing “don’t want to rush and do a crappy job of fixing the right things and we also don’t want to fix the wrong things” and said that Boeing was examining the plane to see if there were any problems with its design.
“For flight-critical software, I don’t think you want us to rush, rush it faster,” he said.
Sinnett also said that ” the assumption is that the flight crews have been trained”
Boeing lost $1 billion in profit in the first quarter of the year, and has slowed production of the Max jets. It received no new orders for the aircraft since they were grounded around the world, and received no new orders for any of its aircraft models in April.
Boeing faces lawsuits from victims’ families and shareholders, as well as federal investigations into how the plane was certified to fly by the FAA.
Muilenburg said that Boeing will “earn and re-earn” flyers’ trust and pledged that the plane will be one of the safest-ever when it returns to service, but at the same time defended the design of the plane.