As a result of a break-through collection of disturbing text messages, it has been uncovered that one of Boeing’s top pilots struggled with the 737 MAX flight controls.
Contacting a colleague, the pilot mentions the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) and how it was “running rampant” during a simulator test run.
To Make matters worse, the text messages shed light on potential software issues affecting flight training and testing simulators as the test pilot involved battled various problems during his run.
Reuters were the first to report on these messages, which during the nine minute exchange between ex-Chief Technical Pilot Mark Forkner told his colleague Patrick Gustavsson that he was relaxing in his hotel room “with an ice cold grey goose” after spending time in the flight simulator.
With the messages now being widely reported by the media, Boeing’s stocks have dropped enormously and regulators have begun firing questions. A new call in Congress has also insisted Boeing conduct further management changes.
The text messages were sent during November 2016, which was four months before the 737 MAX was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Reuters also notes that the simulator, provided by Textron’s TRU Simulation + Training, was still months away from being certified for training use and was riddled with various technical problems.
“I’m levelling off at like 4000 ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like craxy (sic). I’m like, WHAT?”Previous Boeing 737 MAX Chief Technical Pilot, Mark Forkner
Gustavsson responded to Forkner’s message by saying that he had experienced similar issues during his approach.
Considering Boeing said that MCAS only activates when flaps are retracted, Gustavsson’s response indicates a potential scenario where MCAS activated outside of its operating envelope.
Whether he’s discussing the simulator faults or the MCAS itself will be determined as investigations delve deeper into the 737 MAX situation.
Forkner used his lawyer to tell Reuters “the simulator was not reading right and had to be fixed to fly like the real plane”.
This was in line with Gustavsson’s question as to whether or not he could conduct any work in the simulator or if he would experience the “normal chaos”.
Perhaps the most serious exchange of messages involves Forkner admitting that he “basically lied to the regulators”. In response, Gustavsson said “it wasn’t a lie, no one told us that was the case”.
“Granted I suck at flying, but even this was egregious” said Forkner. He then quickly added that “there are still some real fundamental issues” referring to the simulator.
In September it was unveiled by the Seattle Times that Forkner no longer works at Boeing, however he refused to hand over documents after he cited his Fifth Amendment rights.
The release of these text messages ignites a fresh set of problems for Boeing, who is already facing months of extreme scrutiny over the deaths of 346 people over the two crashes of the young 737 MAX aircraft.
Boeing’s Chief Executive, Dennis Muilenburg, has been ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration to give an “immediate” explanation for the delay in handing over the text message transcript, which was discovered four months ago.
In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Friday, Peter DeFazio, Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee, said the following:
“These messages indicate that Boeing withheld damning information from the FAA, which is highly disturbing,”
The Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing are already in the same boat, with many in the industry and the flying population expressing their anger and concern about the 737 MAX and its story so far.
Criminal investigations are already ongoing and have been focusing on the development and certification of the 737 MAX. The unveiling of these text messages could also lead to conclusions that involve serious punishment.
Southwest Airlines, the largest 737 MAX operator before the grounding, told Reuters that they had no knowledge of the text messages, however they are continuing to engage with Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration to return the aircraft to service in a safe manner.
Despite this, Southwest pilots have already filed a lawsuit against Boeing which can be read in detail here:
In the mean time, Boeing maintains their efforts to resume 737 MAX operations and deliveries before the end of the fourth quarter; however with more and more details being uncovered, and the vision still bury, airlines are cancelling 737 MAX flights well into 2020.
To see what Boeing is doing to make the 737 MAX a safe aircraft, check out this article:
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