Boeing crisis deepens as major supplier cuts jobs
The crisis surrounding Boeing deepened on Friday as US politicians lined up to attack the company over the latest revelations about its safety culture and a major supplier announced it was making thousands of staff redundant.
Members of Congress reacted with anger to the publication of hundreds of messages in which Boeing employees mocked regulators and admitted flaws in its ill-fated 737 Max jet, which was later involved in two fatal accidents.
And as investigators pored over the latest documents, Spirit AeroSystems, one of the biggest suppliers for the Max, announced it would lay off 2,800 US workers as a result of the ongoing turmoil surrounding the jet, which has been grounded for the last 10 months.
Peter DeFazio, the Democratic chair of the House transport committee, which is investigating the two crashes, said: “These emails show that the problems at Boeing go beyond one rogue employee, and that there was a culture of concealment at the company.”
Ted Cruz, the Republican chair of the Senate aviation subcommittee, called the revelations “deeply disturbing”.
He added: “The fact that we are just now seeing these documents is unacceptable. Boeing needs to explain to Congress why after multiple hearings and briefings the company continues to withhold correspondence critical to understanding what happened.
“I’m angry — and every member of the flying public should be too.”
Boeing released 117 pages of messages on Thursday night that showed their employees desperately trying to convince regulators and airlines that pilots would only need a minimal amount of training before flying the Max.
In one message, an employee says: “Now friggin Lion Air might need a sim [simulator training] to fly the MAX, and maybe because of their own stupidity. I’m scrambling to figure out how to unscrew this now! idiots.” Lion Air, the Indonesian airline whose Max jet crashed in 2018, killing 189 people, declined to comment.
Other messages show Boeing employees talking about hiding facts from the regulator as they rushed to get approval for their new jet. In one April 2017 exchange, an employee wrote: “This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”
The following year, an employee wrote: “I still haven’t been forgiven by god for the covering up I did last year.”
The Federal Aviation Administration, which passed the aircraft as fit to fly in 2017, but grounded it last year following the accidents, called the tone of the messages “disappointing”. But the regulator added: “Nothing in the submission pointed to any safety risks that were not already identified as part of the ongoing review of proposed modifications to the aircraft.”
Analysts said that the disruption caused by Spirit AeroSystem’s decision to cut thousands of jobs might have a greater consequence in the long term. The company supplies 70 per cent of the Max’s structure, including the fuselage and wing components.
Tom Gentile, Spirit’s chief executive, said in a statement: “The difficult decision announced today is a necessary step given the uncertainty related to both the timing for resuming 737 Max production and the overall production levels that can be expected following the production suspension.”
After continuing to manufacture the Max despite the grounding, Boeing finally decided to pause production from this month.
Industry analysts have voiced concern that lay-offs by suppliers and other disruptions to Boeing’s supply chain could hamper the process of ramping production back up once regulators eventually approve the aircraft’s return to the skies.
Boeing’s shares fell 1.3 per cent on Friday morning to $332.