Just as Boeing seemed to be getting closer to having its upgrades to the 737 MAX flight controls approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) thus clearing the way for the jet to return to commercial service by year end, the crisis surrounding the MAX has been hit with fresh controversy. An exchange of internal messages from 2016 between two senior pilots suggests Boeing already knew about the drawbacks of the MCAS flight-control system at the time, prompting regulators to demand for an immediate explanation. The news comes as CEO Dennis Muilenburg faces increasing pressure before his testimony to the U.S. Congress at the end of October, 2019.

A series of internal messages on November 16, 2016, between two Boeing lead technical pilots on the 737 MAX program seem to indicate that the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) installed on the new jet behaved erratically during flight simulator sessions.

Not only that, but in the exchange of texts, first reported by Reuters on October 18, 2019, the MAX’s then-chief technical pilot, Mark Forkner, admits he might have “unknowingly” lied to the FAA about the behavior of the new flight-control system.

“MCAS is now active down to M. 2. It’s running rampant in the sim on me,” Forkner writes to his colleague Patrik Gustavsson, adding, “So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly).” To which, Gustavsson responds: “It wasn’t a lie, no one told us that was the case”.

“I’m levelling off at like 4000 ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like crazy. I’m like, WHAT?” Forkner continues. Gustavsson responds that he experienced similar patterns with MCAS during simulator trials, “but on approach.”

“Granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious,” Forkner writes, according to a transcript of the message chain between the two pilots. The conversation took place just several months before the aircraft was certified by the FAA and entered into service in May 2017.

In the coming weeks, several world aviation authorities should submit a report on the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX. The conclusions will reportedly be critical of the way the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) handled the approval of the aircraft.

Regulators outraged

U.S. regulators have blasted Boeing for not turning over the “concerning” message exchange in time. According to a statement by the FAA on October 18, 2019, the plane maker had known about the matter for several months. It had brought the document to the U.S. Department of Transport (DOT) only the day before.

“The FAA finds the substance of the document concerning. The FAA is also disappointed that Boeing did not bring this document to our attention immediately upon its discovery,” the agency’s statement reads, adding that it is “reviewing this information to determine what action is appropriate”.

In fact, according to the Seattle Times, Boeing provided the exchange to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) back in February 2019 – before the second fatal crash of the 737 MAX.