Boeing’s chief knew about a test pilot’s warnings before the second crash.
In November 2016, well before the 737 Max was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane’s chief technical pilot told a colleague that a new system on the plane was “running rampant” in simulator tests. The pilot, Mark Forkner, went on to say that he had unknowingly lied to regulators.
In a January 2017 email, two months after acknowledging that he “unknowingly” lied to regulators, Mr. Forkner again pushed the F.A.A. to remove mention of the system, known as MCAS, from pilot training materials.
“Delete MCAS,” Mr. Forkner wrote. In aerospace speak, he described the system as “way outside the normal operating envelope,” meaning that it would only activate in rare situations that pilots would almost never encounter in normal passenger flights.
But the instant messages to his colleague show that Mr. Forkner appeared to realize in November that MCAS was causing issues in the simulator and making it difficult to gain control of the plane.
The messages, which were made public this month, raise serious new questions about what Boeing knew about the new system, known as MCAS, which played a role in both crashes. During the hearing before Congress, Mr. Muilenburg, Boeing’s chief executive, said that the company had not been able to speak to Mr. Forkner, who now works for Southwest Airlines, about the messages.
However, when asked when he learned of the messages from Mr. Forkner, Mr. Muilenburg said: “I believe it was prior to the second crash.”
Lawmakers also asked why Boeing, which has known about the messages for months, waited so long to hand the messages over to Congress and the F.A.A.
“Boeing should have notified the F.A.A. about that conversation upon its discovery immediately,” Senator Roger Wicker, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in his opening statement.
The Times was the first to report on Mr. Forkner’s involvement in the Max, revealing that during the plane’s development, he asked the F.A.A. to remove mention of MCAS from the training manual.
Mr. Muilenberg admits “we made some mistakes.”
Mr. Muilenburg started the hearing on Tuesday with a note of contrition.
Mr. Muilenburg, an engineer who has been criticized for his response to the crashes, appeared emotional in his opening remarks at a hearing of the Senate commerce committee.
“We are sorry,” he said, addressing his remarks to the families of the crash victims. “Deeply and truly sorry.”
Mr. Muilenburg outlined changes being made to the Max and the company in response to the crashes. “We’ve been challenged and changed by these accidents,” he said. “We made some mistakes, and we got some things wrong.”
His opening remarks came after Senators Roger Wicker and Maria Cantwell made sharp opening statements about Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“One thing is crystal clear,” Ms. Cantwell said. “If you want to be the leader in aviation manufacturing, you have to be the leader in aviation safety.”
The families of crash victims are demanding accountability.
Before the hearing began, a group of victims’ family members filed in to the room holding posters of their loved ones.
“He needs to resign, I will say that to his face,” said Nadia Milleron, whose daughter Samya Stumo died in the second Max crash in Ethiopia in March. “I think he’s very bad for Boeing, he’s very bad for the U.S., he’s very bad for safety. He should resign, the whole board should resign.”
The F.A.A.’s oversight of the plane’s development is a big topic.
As the 737 Max was developed, it was Boeing employees working on behalf of the F.A.A., not government inspectors, who signed off on many aspects of the plane. This system of so-called delegation, which lets manufacturers sign off on their own work, is under scrutiny.
Investigations by The New York Times have revealed that Boeing employees sometimes felt pressure to play down safety concerns and meet deadlines, that key F.A.A. officials didn’t fully understand MCAS and that the F.A.A. office in Seattle that oversees Boeing was seen inside the regulator as excessively deferential to the company.
“We cannot have a race for commercial airplanes become a race to the bottom when it comes to safety. The company, the board cannot prioritize profits over safety,” Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, where Boeing has its major operations, said in her opening statement.
Boeing and its allies in industry also waged a yearslong lobbying campaign to get the F.A.A. to delegate even more to the company, an effort that paid off with the passage of last year’s F.A.A. reauthorization act. Now, lawmakers are questioning whether the entire system of certifying airplanes needs an overhaul.
“No matter what we did last year, we need to be pulling some of that back into the public sphere, and take some of it out of the hands of industry,” Representative Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington, told The Times.
Boeing expected to have the Max flying by now.
More than seven months after the plane was grounded after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March, Boeing has still not satisfied the F.A.A.’s requirements.
In addition to completing a software update for MCAS and updated training requirements for the plane, Boeing and regulators have discovered additional problems that have resulted in months of delays.
As the delays persist, airlines that were counting on the Max are facing growing financial pressure. If the Max remains grounded into next year, it could force Boeing to shut down production of the plane, which would have a major impact on the United States economy.
Boeing last week reiterated that it still expected the F.A.A. to clear the Max to fly before the end of the year. But the company has already had to push back its estimates on the plane’s return to service several times.