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Boeing says FAA was told ‘multiple times’ of changes to 737 Max
[CHICAGO] Boeing said it told US regulators "multiple times" that it had expanded the role of flight-control software later linked to two fatal crashes, and that Federal Aviation Administration personnel observed the system operating in flight tests before the 737 Max was certified for service.
The statement, posted online Sunday, provided a broader explanation to last week's bombshell revelation that a former senior Boeing pilot had described the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, also known as MCAS, as "egregious" to a colleague. In an exchange of instant messages following a rocky simulator run in August 2016, Mark Forkner, now a Southwest Airlines pilot, said that he had unknowingly "lied" to the FAA about its behaviour.
The latest controversy swirling around the grounded 737 Max adds to the pressure on the embattled planemaker and chief executive officer Dennis Muilenburg as directors and senior executives gather in San Antonio, Texas, for a regularly scheduled board meeting on Sunday evening and Monday. Delays in getting approval to return the plane to service have cost Boeing at least US$8.4 billion and resulted in Mr Muilenburg being stripped of his post as chairman.
The FAA said in an email on Sunday that it would stand by comments it released on Oct 18, when it called the pilot's comments "concerning" and chastised Boeing for not revealing the information sooner. "The FAA is reviewing this information to determine what action is appropriate," the US regulator said.
The public rupture comes as Boeing and the regulator are working to get the 737 Max back into the skies and rebuild public trust after months of bruising publicity. The commercial return of Boeing's best-selling plane has slipped repeatedly and now isn't likely before 2020.
"We understand and regret the concern caused by the release" of the instant messages, Boeing said. "It is unfortunate that this document, which was provided early this year to government investigators, could not be released in a manner that would have allowed for meaningful explanation."
Boeing said it has been unable to speak to Mr Forkner to gain context on exactly what he meant in those 2016 instant messages. The pilot's attorney says his client wasn't hiding anything and that based on everything Forkner knew at the time, "he absolutely thought this plane was safe."
"If you read the whole chat, it is obvious that there was no 'lie'," David Gerger, Forkner's lawyer, said in an email. "The simulator was not reading right and had to be fixed to fly like the real plane."
The company's board and executive council meet face-to-face six times a year in a city where Boeing has an operations centre, spokesman Gordon Johndroe said by phone.
San Antonio is home to a sprawling maintenance base where Boeing is storing newly built 737 Max that it can't deliver because of a global flying ban, enacted in March after the second of two fatal crashes.