A former Boeing employee said he tried to raise concerns about the 737 Max before and after two deadly crashes but was ignored by the company's CEO, board, and lawyers, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Transport Department, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), The New York Times and NBC News reported.
Ed Pierson, a former senior manager at Boeing's Renton, Washington, factory — where the 737 Max is produced — had said that employees were overworked, tired, and making mistakes, he told the two outlets.
Workers were putting in consecutive 50 to 60-hour weeks without taking any days off, and he had heard of some employees going eight weeks without taking a single day off, NBC News reported.
Simultaneously, managers pressured workers to meet production deadlines, which were impeded by damaged parts, missing tools, and insufficient instructions, The Times reported. The pressures also led to workers being unable to follow specific production schedules, NBC News reported him as saying.
Pierson believes inferior production contributed to the crashes, The Times reported.
The 737 Max was involved in two deadly crashes in October 2018 and March 2019, killing a total of 346 people. All the planes are now grounded worldwide, and have been since March. The 737 Max is expected to return to service in early 2020, possibly after as long as a year out of service.
Boeing executives and the FAA, which vouched for the plane's safety, have since pledged to change. But there is mounting evidence that people tried to raise concerns about the jet before the two fatal flights. Congress is also probing Boeing's role in the crash, and Pierson is expected to testify on Wednesday.
Pierson, a Navy veteran, is speaking out "to ensure that Boeing can no longer place profits above safety," his lawyer Eric Havian said, according to Reuters.
Pierson told NBC News he "cried a lot" after the first crash.
"I'm mad at myself because I felt like I could have done more," he told the news network.
Pierson retired in August 2018, but continued to raise concerns to the company and other national authorities after both disasters.
Here's how he tried to flag issues to various authorities, and how they responded at the time, according to The Times, NBC News, and Reuters:
- In June 2018, he raised concerns about the 737 Max's safety to 737 program manager Scott Campbell, saying in an email: "Frankly right now all my internal warning bells are going off and for the first time in my life, I'm sorry to say that I'm hesitant about putting my family on a Boeing airplane."
- The contents of this email were cited in an October congressional hearing, but Pierson's name was kept anonymous at the time.
- He called on Boeing to shut down the 737 Max production line last year, but the company continued producing the planes.
- After the first crash in October 2018, Pierson brought his concerns about the plane to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg and the company's lawyers, but was disappointed by their responses.
- In February 2019, he wrote to the company's board, saying: "I have no interest in scaring the public or wasting anyone's time ... I also don't want to wake up one morning and hear about another tragedy and have personal regrets."
- After the second crash in March 2019, Pierson says he contacted the FAA, NTSB, and Department of Transport (DOT), to talk about his perceived problems with the plane. He contacted the FAA in September 2019, the FAA said in a letter seen by Business Insider.
- The FAA appeared uninterested in his concerns, and the NTSB said his issues were not in its remit. Both aviation authorities met Pierson's complaints with "indifference," his lawyer said.
- The DOT never replied to him.
A Boeing spokesman told Business Insider in a statement that "although Mr. Pierson did not provide specific information or detail about any particular defect or quality issue, Boeing took his concerns about 737 production disruption seriously."
The spokesman added that company executives, including the 737 program manager and other senior leadership, had responded to Pierson's concerns and "devoted significant attention and resources" to address them.
It added that the company monitors production quality and aircraft prior to delivery, and that Pierson's suggestions that production problems led to the plane crashes were "completely unfounded" and "inconsistent with the facts that have been reported about these accidents."
The FAA told Business Insider that "takes all whistleblower complaints seriously" and had "interacted" with Pierson several times.
In a November 25 letter to Pierson's lawyer, seen by Business Insider, the FAA's Audit and Evaluation Office said it acknowledged his concerns, passed on his issues about accident investigations to the NTSB and a separate FAA division, and continued to review another complaint about aircraft certification.
It also disputed Pierson's October claim that the FAA did not respond to his calls, saying that it never received a call from him in the period he described.
The NTSB and DOT have not yet responded to Business Insider's request for comment on Pierson's allegations.
Pierson's concerns about work conditions in the 737 Max production line echo those of other Boeing employees, many of whom have separately spoken of immense internal pressure to build planes quickly and rush through aircraft safety features while keeping costs low.
Last month a former quality-control engineer at Boeing said he found faulty oxygen bottles — which could leave passengers without oxygen in emergencies — while working on the 787 Dreamliner in 2016, but that the company stonewalled his complaints and punished him afterward.
Pierson had not raised issues with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a feature designed to keep the plane stable and level in the sky.
The system, which has been blamed for both 737 Max crashes, had been triggered by a faulty sensor and forced the two planes into an unstoppable nose-dive. Boeing has promised stakeholders it will fix the software before the 737 Max returns to service..