From recently released emails, we learn that Lion Air wanted simulator training to transition to the 737 MAX, and Boeing aggressively lobbied them not to do so, because it would be bad for their sales pitch.
When there is a safety issue, and Lion Air is on the side of the angels, you have completely screwed the pooch:
Boeing’s efforts to keep 737 Next Generation and MAX training as similar as possible included limiting external discussion of the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) as early as 2013, as well as an aggressive lobbying effort to dissuade Lion Air from requiring simulator sessions for its pilots, new documents released by the manufacturer reveal.
The documents, comprising external and internal emails and internal instant message exchanges, underscore the priority Boeing placed on positioning the MAX as nearly the same as its predecessor, the 737 Next Generation (NG). They also offer some of the most compelling evidence yet that Boeing consciously chose less costly approaches over safer, more conservative ones during the MAX’s development.
Boeing determined early on that ensuring 737 pilots could transition to the MAX without simulator time would be a huge cost advantage when pitching the model to customers. It also realized that regulators could consider some of the MAX’s new features as too much to cover in computer-based training (CBT). The MCAS, a flight control law that commands automatic stabilizer movements in certain flight profiles, was chief among them.
Boeing’s solution: refer to the MCAS externally as an addition to the 737 Speed Trim, not by its name. Boeing knew the approach might be questioned, so it sought input from its FAA-designated authorized representative (AR) “to ensure this strategy is acceptable” for certification.
The plan extended to keeping mention of the MCAS out of MAX pilot training materials. Its erroneous activation played key roles in two MAX accidents—Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019—that led regulators to ground the MAX in mid-March. The fleet remains grounded while Boeing addresses regulators’ concerns, including adding MCAS training and modifying the system’s logic.
Lion Air was the first Asia-Pacific customer to order the MAX, and would be one of the model’s first operators. In June 2017, with its first delivery just days away, the airline was still developing its training curriculum, and simulator sessions were on the table. The airline’s early entry-into-service status meant other MAX customers would be monitoring its progress and fleet-related decisions, including training.
“I would like to discuss what if any requirements beyond the Level B CBT the DGCA has required of you, or if your airline has determined any additional training is required,” a Boeing employee asked a Lion Air 737 training captain in early June 2017.
The captain replied that the airline “decided to give the transition pilot one simulator familiarization” in addition to CBT.
“There is absolutely no reason to require your pilots to require a MAX simulator to begin flying the MAX,” the Boeing employee replied. “Once the engines are started, there is only one difference between NG and MAX procedurally, and that is that there is no OFF position of the gear handle. Boeing does not understand what is to be gained by a three-hour simulator session, when the procedures are essentially the same.”
The Boeing employee then listed six regulators that “have all accepted the CBT requirement as the only training required” to transition to the MAX. “I’d be happy to share the operational difference training with you, to help you understand that a MAX simulator is both impractical and unnecessary for your pilots.”
In a subsequent email, the Boeing employee provided presentations on the MAX technical and operational differences for the Lion Air captain and his team. The Boeing employee also urged Lion Air to consider alternatives to simulator time, such as a flight-hour minimum in 737s or ensuring a pilot’s first MAX flight is always done alongside a pilot with MAX experience.
Around the same time as the Lion Air exchange, two Boeing employees discussed the airline’s concerns in an instant-message chat.
“Now [Lion Air] might need a sim to fly the MAX, and maybe because of their own stupidity,” one Boeing employee wrote.
If someone senior at Boeing does not go to jail over this, then the law is a lie.