Messages reveal a top Boeing pilot knew about problems with the 737 Max's 'egregious' behavior before 2 deadly crashes (BA)

David Slotnick
Boeing 737 Max

David Ryder/Getty Images


  • Boeing's chief technical pilot on the 737 Max project told another employee in 2016 that there were "egregious" problems with the jet's automated MCAS system.
  • The pilot, Mark Forkner, made those observations at least two years before the first of two deadly crashes involving the 737 Max, in October 2018 and March 2019.
  • Boeing said it found the internal instant messages sent by Forkner "some months ago," according to Reuters, which first reported on the messages on Friday. The New York Times reviewed them.
  • Boeing is working to get the 737 Max back into service seven months after it was grounded worldwide.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Boeing's chief technical pilot on the 737 Max project told another employee in 2016 that there were "egregious" problems with the jet's automated MCAS system, two years before the first of two fatal crashes attributed to the system, The New York Times reported on Friday.

Boeing said it found the internal instant messages sent by the pilot, Mark Forkner, "some months ago," according to Reuters, which first reported on the messages. However, Boeing did not turn them over to the Federal Aviation Administration until Thursday.

In the messages, reviewed by The Times, Forkner complained that the MCAS system was causing problems during flight simulations.

"It's running rampant in the sim," he said in one message.

"Granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious," he continued.

In another message, he suggested that he had unintentionally misled the FAA about the issue.

"I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)," he said.

Earlier in 2016, Forkner asked the FAA for permission to remove mentions of the MCAS from the pilot manual for the 737 Max, arguing that it would activate only in rare cases. The FAA approved the request.

Forkner could not immediately be reached for comment by Business Insider.

Read more: Boeing stripped its CEO of his chairman title and an analyst thinks it's the best possible outcome for him and the embattled company

The FAA told Reuters that it found the messages "concerning" and that it was "reviewing this information to determine what action is appropriate."

Forkner is said to have pleaded the Fifth after being subpoenaed for documents as part of the Justice Department's investigation into the Max.

Boeing's CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, is set to testify on Capitol Hill later this month about the two crashes and the development of the plane.

The 737 Max has been grounded since March, following the second of two fatal crashes in five months.

Preliminary reports about the two crashes, Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, indicated that the MCAS — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System — erroneously engaged and forced the planes' noses to point down because of a problem with the design of the system's software. Pilots were unable to regain control of the aircraft.

Read more: Boeing 737 timeline: From the early days to the grounding of the 737 Max after 2 fatal crashes that killed 346 people 5 months apart

The system could be activated by a single sensor reading — in both crashes, the sensors are thought to have failed, sending erroneous data to the flight computer and, without a redundant check in place, triggering the automated system.

MCAS was designed to compensate for the 737 Max having larger engines than previous 737 generations. The larger engines could cause the plane's nose to tip upward, leading to a stall — in that situation, MCAS could automatically point the nose down to negate the effect of the engine size.

Boeing is aiming to submit a proposed fix to the FAA and get the plane certified to fly again by the end of 2019. US airlines have pulled the jet from their schedules until at least January.

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