Boeing discloses new set of 737 Max messages to U.S. regulators

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Boeing Co. has disclosed a new batch of internal messages related to the 737 Max program to federal regulators.

The documents were turned over to the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter who wasn’t permitted to speak about it. The disclosure came on the same day Boeing ousted its chief executive officer.

This was the second time that Boeing has delayed turning over to the FAA sensitive messages related to the development of the 737 Max jetliner, which was grounded in March after a design flaw was linked to two fatal crashes, in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The earlier episode prompted a rebuke by the agency and helped lead to growing tensions between the regulator and the planemaker.

The FAA learned of the existence of the latest group of messages from the company in recent days, but was not told any details about what was said in them, according to another person familiar with the issue. The company’s decision to turn the emails over to the FAA was reported earlier by the Seattle Times.

Boeing’s Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg stepped down Monday, at least partly as a result of deteriorating relations with the FAA, according to a statement from the company’s board.

In October, Boeing disclosed to the FAA instant messages and emails by a high-ranking company pilot who in 2016 expressed misgivings about the software implicated in two fatal crashes on the Max.

Boeing had known about those messages since early in the year and turned them over to the Justice Department in February. It didn’t give them to the FAA immediately because of the criminal investigation into how the plane was approved, Bloomberg News reported at the time.

The delay angered the FAA, which is charged with overseeing Boeing. One of the agency’s key tenets is that entities it oversees must disclose safety issues or possible breaches of regulations. In some circumstances, failing to tell the agency about such an issue may be considered a legal violation.

“The FAA finds the substance of the document concerning,” the agency said in a statement on Oct. 18. “The FAA is also disappointed that Boeing did not bring this document to our attention immediately upon its discovery.”

The November 2016 instant messages disclosed in October, which were reviewed by Bloomberg News, were between between Mark Forkner, then Boeing’s chief technical pilot for the 737, and another 737 technical pilot, Patrik Gustavsson.

Forkner expressed concern that the flight-control feature later implicated in the crashes was “running rampant” and said he might have unknowingly misled the FAA about it. In separate emails he sent to an unnamed FAA official, he said he was “jedi-mind tricking” regulators outside the U.S. into accepting Boeing’s suggested training for the Max.

A lawyer for Forkner, David Gerger, said issues raised in the messages were the result of balky simulator software and not a result of problems with the plane itself. Forkner believed the plane was safe and didn’t mislead the FAA, Gerger said.