Boeing Releases MAX Emails


More than one hundred pages of internal Boeing communications related to the design and certification of the grounded 737 MAX and including discussions about deceiving regulators, avoiding simulator training requirements and the aircraft’s poor design were released to the public on Thursday. According to Boeing, the communications were turned over to the FAA in December but the company made the decision to publicize the documents following “encouragement” from Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology. The release of the communications prompted the FAA to issue a statement on Friday clarifying that although it found the tone and content of the messages “disappointing,” agency experts had reviewed the documents and uncovered no safety risks not previously identified during the FAA’s ongoing review of proposed modifications to the MAX.

“These communications do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable,” Boeing said. “We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them. We have made significant changes as a company to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture.” Boeing also stated that it would be “taking appropriate action” in response to the content of the messages including “disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.”

The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded last March after 346 people were killed in the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. The FAA reiterated on Friday that it would not set a time frame for returning the aircraft to service, but would focus on following a thorough process. As previously reported by AVweb, Boeing issued a statement earlier this week recommending simulator training for MAX crews.

The documents released by Boeing can be viewed here:

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Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. I wonder what the ‘end game’ of the two Congress people was to have Boeing publicize these internal documents? Are they trying to further embarrass Boeing or the FAA ? What’s better now that this has occurred? Or is this intended as penance for Boeing ? “Release the memos, say three ‘Hail Mary’s’ and don’t do it again?”

    • This is about the need to change the culture at Boeing. So far that culture has not changed. It is not about embarrassing Boeing and the FAA or saying “Hail Marys” and doing penance. How the culture at Boeing can change with the front office located in Chicago for the reason it was located there while the heart and soul of the company is in Seattle is rather unclear.

  2. Companies have cultures. So do petri dishes. Some are toxic.

    Whether gelatin or corporate, it’s important to understand how the culture took root. And how to sterilize it, if it’s toxic.

    Petri dishes are easy to sterilize.
    Boeing’s culture? I guess we shall see…

    • What about the “culture and toxic petri dish” at the FAA? Let’s read their memos…

      The behemoth FAA and it’s out of control surveillance program. The FAA’s lack of responsibility dwarfs any little memo from financially responsible tax paying aviation companies. Comrades, you can’t keep covering for this mega bureaucratic disaster.

  3. I’m a retired Boeing Engineer. My work did not involve the problems that the MAX has, but the same culture existed. One of the released emails says “Sometimes you have to let things fail big so that everyone can identify a problem…” I said that about our problems with leadership way back in the early 2000’s. The culture at Boeing greatly changed after the McDonnell/Douglas merger, and it came from the McDonnell side of their camp. Now that an entire generation of senior managers have been trained at the Boeing (McDonnell) Leadership Center in St.Louis, it will take another generation to change it.

  4. Open words have always been a challenge in tradition- laden American companies. Notable quotes from within Boeing’s emails include sentences like: “Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t.” – “I’ll be shocked if the FAA passes this turd.” – “This is a joke. This airplane is ridiculous.” – “Best part is we are re-starting this whole thing with the 777X with the same supplier and have signed up to an even more aggressive schedule!” – “Jesus, it’s doomed.” (Source: Bloomberg Internal Boeing Messages Say 737 Max ‘Designed by Clowns’” dated January 9, 2019)

    Ignoring the fact that internal emails are monitored, collected and stored (one could probably still find some venting emails I sent while still on the payroll of Jeppesen, a Boeing sub) its paramount to note that Boeing management took the time to remind people to “remain professional and watch for tone” in their communications, while skipping to acknowledge the freaking elephant in the room. Crap people! Even as this huge ship is taking on water and listing, we’d rather not hear the truth for fear of offending the political correctness police. That’s insane!

    Telling employees to STFU without creating necessary feedback loops that allow for preventive corrective action to take place, is what disturbs me the most. In upper management, this issue is inconvenient and probably tuned out – turned over for the PR agency to solve – while during the next congressional grilling, these same people will sit there and lie through their teeth, that Boeing values its most important asset, which of course is it’s wonderful, beloved employees. Its NOT about the money!

    I have spoken with mid-level managerial staff at Airbus, but also countless other companies – which indicate similar environments. “Saying it as it is” – a big NO NO in today’s world. Sometimes, hearing the truth and having one’s management style or way to deal with challenges criticized is VERY inconvenient. The fish starts to rot and stink though, when hearing the truth is prevented at all cost, when screams and feedback is silenced and when leadership shows regret for open words being dragged out into the light of day.

    A manager with balls and a concept of “the buck stops here” mentality would DEFEND these emails as concerned speech by people who have been FAILED by management. Heck, I would INVITE my staff to go open microphone, for I am a better leader if I know what people think and feel about things. You can vent all you want, if you deliver at least ONE proposed solution for every issue you report about.

    We love to forget that people have reasons for their actions and words and that 99.9% of what is considered a “politically incorrect transgression” is the result of – at times – decades of discontent for a companies developed course and heading. People who write mails like that don’t hate Boeing, they show more integrity than 75% of the companies current leadership.

    But, stuff is going sideways in broad daylight and yet there is INCREDIBLE bureaucracy and chains of command which prevent two-way communication between the kings and the peasants. We can’t afford failing to communicate openly and (sometimes) painfully honestly, folks. People DIE when we screw up!

    While my own style of internal communication (both as an employee and as a contractor in self employment) has been described as everything from “refreshingly candid” to “disturbingly unorthodox” I always went by a credo a WWII veteran once told me. He said: “When you go home at night, you want to make sure that you have done your job to the best of your abilities. When you see something going wrong, being silent is equivalent to being part of – and a tool to – whatever and whomever is doing wrong. You need to be able to see yourself in a mirror and say that you acted with honesty, with integrity and true to your values.” Many years later, I changed my signature line on one of my forums to: “Integrity is a choice. It is choosing the simplicity and purity of truth over popularity.”

    Boeing ought to figure out why on gods green planet popular and politically correct people have a better chance of career-progression within the corporate giants glorious matrix, than the inconvenient ones. When people in charge rake in 25 million dollars per year (that’s nearly 2.1 Million per month) they may at times find themselves completely disconnected from “normal” people. When all you slurp and munch on is beyond the pay-scale of most other humans who keep your company humming, you may loose sight of the overall mission. That’s toxic!

    I remember sitting with an automotive dealership owner one day who referred to his shop- and showroom staff as “down there”. Those we don’t speak of – these pesky smelly people, down there – desire this, and they want and demand that, but none of them knows what it takes to own this place and pay the bills. This attitude is the NORM in many management offices, lets not fool ourselves into going by what the website credo says.

    Boeing employees will quickly be surveyed, ethics training will take place and silence and proper order will be restored. Systemic problems often lead to systemic failure. When all fails, we exchange the bonehead at the top, send the old bonehead home with a golden parachute and continue to do the same screwed-up stuff, expecting new and radically different results. Insanity gets redefined.

    I personally can’t watch this stuff without being reminded of DILBERT comic strips. I may chuckle and laugh about Dilberts artful creations of displaying the highest levels of managerial incompetence as laughable acts of humor, but then it strikes me that so many comics I see remind me of reality. I hope we won’t wait with some heavy corrective action until the taxpayer gets called to the carpet, to help fix this mess of a failed management-style agenda.

  5. In my experience this management “style” and culture is nothing new, having seen it over a 30+ year engineering career. I worry about the future of commercial aviation as the Urban Air Mobility squad ramps up, which seems to be populated with a pervasive, possibly generationally-fueled, smirking, Gaming The System culture, and whether some of them might rise to a level of presence and influence that will have consequences – for their passengers – similar to what has happened with Boeing.
    There are countless ways to Game The System.

  6. Internal corporate culture cannot nor will change when the bottom line is the bottom line. So many lament that companies are now only concerned about bottom line earnings at the sacrifice of integrity and safety.

    However, most of us would be equally outraged if our 401K’s and our investment portfolios did not produce as a result of the the company(s) we have invested not meeting the shareholder’s (us) expectations. These expectations are determined by Wall Street through financial analysts far removed of the reality of, in this case, aviation. If the company’s management does not fatten up our retirement expectations as promised by those we have now counted on to provide the RIO that was promised, we demand that leadership do something to correct this downward trend. As a result, they do.

    Whatever it takes to get to an expected bottom line rules the financial roost. The toxic culture is not just isolated to the company under the current public microscope. This toxic company culture is part of a world financial culture we all willingly or unwittingly participating in. To produce airliners, it takes participation in this toxic global financial system. A small, family run business cannot produce the number of airplanes with the size, complexity, comfort, and efficiency modern airlines and the public demands.

    We are looking through nostalgic eyes of a past time of independent companies who rose to world prominence through good solid business principles. This included looking at employees as not only an asset but with a commitment to protecting their longevity, improving family life, and investing resources for their benefit and general well being.

    Today, the employee is simply a means to an end. That end is meeting quarterly and yearly financial expectations. Whatever it takes to get there is the task of top management. Anything that impedes that quest to meet those expectations is removed, one way or another. And many of our retirement expectations are wrapped up in this toxic, now normal business environment.

    Ironically, many of us in a small or large way, are inadvertently part of the cause for this toxicity. We did not intentionally design this investment system. But like it or not, we do participate in it in one way or another. A sort of sick which came first chicken or the egg scenario.

    At this point it cannot change. Global economics is a giant ship whose course is very hard to alter. And all of the countries respective companies have to play within these financial boundaries. There is no more financial isolation or financial independence. MAX crashes are just a part of the collateral damage that results of this global financial collaboration that nations including the US cannot exit.

    Now its just a matter of damage control to maintain shareholder’s confidence to meet the next quarterly financial expectations. And of course, that means saying safety is the number one Boeing priority followed with complete transparency. The financial safety of the company depends on meeting those financial expectations. So the word of the day is indeed safety. Financial safety. Everything else is secondary. So called transparency is just part of the damage control process which will bolster shareholder confidence there by contributing to Boeing’s financial safety. Problem solved.