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Messages from former Boeing test pilot reveal Max concerns

FILE - In this April 26, 2019, file photo a worker walks past a Boeing 737 MAX 8 airplane being built for Oman Air at Boeing's assembly facility in Renton, Wash. Passengers who refuse to fly on a Boeing Max won’t be entitled to compensation if they cancel. However, travel experts think airlines will be very flexible in rebooking passengers of giving them refunds if they’re afraid to fly on a plane that has crashed twice. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

WASHINGTON — Boeing Co. turned over instant messages from 2016 between two employees that suggest the airplane maker may have misled the Federal Aviation Administration about a key safety system on the grounded 737 Max, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The FAA confirmed Friday that Boeing told it a day earlier about internal messages it had discovered “some months ago” that characterize “certain communications with the FAA during the original certification of the 737 Max in 2016.”

The FAA said it found the messages “concerning” and “is reviewing this information to determine what action is appropriate.” It prompted a letter from FAA Administrator Steve Dickson to Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg demanding an “immediate” explanation for the delay in turning over the documents.

A person briefed on the matter said Boeing failed to turn over the documents to the FAA for four months and that the Justice Department is also in possession of the messages.

The Boeing internal messages raised questions about the performance of the so-called MCAS anti-stall system that has been tied to the two fatal crashes in five months.

The messages are between the Max’s then-chief technical pilot, Mark Forkner, and another Boeing pilot, the sources said, and raised questions about the MCAS’s performance in the simulator in which he said it was “running rampant.”

Forkner has since left Boeing. The Seattle Times reported in September that Forkner repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not turn over documents subpoenaed by the Justice Department.

Boeing said in a statement the company “brought to the Committee’s attention a document containing statements by a former Boeing employee.”

Forkner said in one text message, “I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly).” The other employee responded that “it wasn’t a lie, no one told us that was the case” of an issue with MCAS.

Forkner responded soon after: “Granted I suck at flying, but even this was egregious.”

The FAA planned to turn over more communications from Forkner to Congress later on Friday, sources said.

Boeing is revising the 737 Max software to add more safeguards and require the MCAS system to receive input from two key sensors.

Earlier this week, Southwest Airlines Co. delayed the return of the plane to its flight schedule until February.

Separately, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee confirmed it will question Muilenburg at an Oct. 29 hearing, one day before a House of Representatives panel is scheduled to question him.

Boeing shares fell 3.9% after the Reuters report, helping to drag down the Dow Jones industrial average to a session low.

Federal prosecutors aided by the FBI, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general and several blue-ribbon panels are investigating the 737 Max’s certification.

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