Boeing’s 737 Max Crisis Wasn’t One Man’s Fault

The facts detailed in the indictment aren’t flattering for Forkner. But the idea that he was operating as some kind of rogue employee and should shoulder this much blame defies logic. The indictment says Forkner was aware that Boeing had agreed to compensate at least one airline customer if the FAA required more significant pilot training. It doesn’t say he made that decision himself. Nor was he the one who elected to expand the scope of MCAS in the first place, without the kind of fixes and adjustments that Boeing has since made in order to get the Max flying again. It appears that he wasn’t even properly informed of the rework. “I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” Forkner wrote in a message to a colleague included in the legal filings after seemingly stumbling across the increased range of MCAS in a simulated test flight. It wasn’t one person who acted for the sake of personal gain or commercial expediency; it was a culture that encouraged such behavior and a company that lacked the kind of inter-divisional coordination and quality controls necessary to churn out safe airplanes. The language in the DOJ’s statement on Forkner echoes that of a January deal with Boeing to settle a criminal charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government with essentially a slap on the wrist. The headline penalty was $2.5 billion, but the vast majority of that represented customer compensation that Boeing would have needed to pay regardless. The deferred prosecution agreement requires Boeing to cooperate with investigators, enhance reporting on internal controls and meet routinely with regulators to prove it’s doing all it can to discourage future infractions. But the DOJ concluded that Boeing didn’t need an independent compliance monitor, in part because its “misconduct was neither pervasive across the organization, nor undertaken by a large number of employees, nor facilitated by senior management.”Really? Forkner left Boeing in July 2018, according to the indictment. The first Max crash happened in October of that year. It took Boeing and former CEO Dennis Muilenburg many months after the second accident in March 2019 to take full accountability for the company’s role in the crashes. Boeing repeatedly pushed overly optimistic deadlines for the Max’s return, to the point where, in late 2019, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson publicly rebuked the company. It wasn’t until January 2020, 10 months into the Max’s grounding, that Boeing finally shifted its position and recommended simulator training for pilots.Despite the crash, Muilenburg was paid a total of $23.4 million in 2018, while board members — including current CEO Dave Calhoun — earned an average of $345,000 that year. Muilenburg was ousted in December 2019 but has re-emerged as CEO and chairman of New Vista Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company that raised more than $200 million earlier this year to hunt for deals in the space or air mobility industry. There’s something fundamentally lopsided about this. 



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