Boeing engineer says a safety system on the grounded 737 Max was rejected ‘over cost’


Curtis Ewbank made an internal ethics complaint in the wake of two deadly crashes 

A senior Boeing engineer says a safety system on the grounded 737 Max, which may have prevented two fatal crashes, was rejected as management was ‘more concerned with cost and schedule than quality’. 

Curtis Ewbank is said to have made the startling claims in an internal ethics complaint earlier this year just weeks after two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

His complaint is part of a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice and investigators are said to have spoken with at least one former Boeing worker about the allegations, according to The New York Times.  

Ewbank, who worked at Boeing from 2010 to 2015, is said to have accused the company’s chief executive for publicly misrepresenting the safety of the plane, writing in his complaint: ‘I was willing to stand up for safety and quality, but was unable to actually have an effect in those areas. 

‘Boeing management was more concerned with cost and schedule than safety or quality.’

Ewbank, who returned to work for the company in 2018, also alleges chief test pilot of the 737 Ray Craig wanted to look into the synthetic airspeed system but an executive was decided not to because of potential cost and the training of pilots. 

The Department of Justice declined to comment on the allegations to the DailyMail.com. 

Grounded Boeing 737 Max aircraft are seen parked in an aerial photo at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington in July. Boeing engineer Curtis Ewbank has reportedly claimed a system that may have reduced crash risks was rejected over cost

Grounded Boeing 737 Max aircraft are seen parked in an aerial photo at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington in July. Boeing engineer Curtis Ewbank has reportedly claimed a system that may have reduced crash risks was rejected over cost 

Debris lays piled up just outside the impact crater after being gathered by workers at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines. Ewbank also alleges chief test pilot of the 737 Ray Craig wanted to look into the synthetic airspeed system but an executive was decided not to because of potential cost

Debris lays piled up just outside the impact crater after being gathered by workers at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines. Ewbank also alleges chief test pilot of the 737 Ray Craig wanted to look into the synthetic airspeed system but an executive was decided not to because of potential cost

A ‘fear of retaliation’ stopped him from filing the complaint initially, he said, stating: ‘There is a suppressive cultural attitude towards criticism of corporate policy — especially if that criticism comes as a result of fatal accidents.’ 

He added: ‘Boeing is not in a business where safety can be treated as a secondary concern. But the current culture of expediency of design-to-market and cost cutting does not permit any other treatment by the work force tasked with making executive managements’ fever dreams a reality.’ 

Ewbank said that managers were told to look into a backup system, known as synthetic airspeed, which would calculate the plane’s airspeed.

THE SYSTEM THAT ‘COULD HAVE REDUCED THE RISK OF CRASHING’ 

Engineer Curtis Ewbank, who filed the complaint, said that managers were told to look into a backup system, known as synthetic airspeed, which would calculate the plane’s airspeed. 

The synthetic airspeed system was not directly connected to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that contributed to both crashes, The Seattle Times reports. 

But Ewbank said the system would have been able to know when the angle-of-attack sensors were not working correctly.

That could have potentially stopped MCAS from activating pushing down the jets’ noses as it is the angle of attack sensors which tell the MCAS to automatically point the nose of the plane down if it is in danger of going into a stall.  

Ewbank worked on the development of systems in the cockpit of the 737 Max used by pilots to monitor and control the plane.

A version of the synthetic airspeed system is now used on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. 

The whistleblower argues that system would have been able to know when the angle-of-attack sensors were not working correctly.    

Preliminary accident reports found that faulty sensor readings and multiple automatic commands to push down the nose of the Boeing plane contributed to the crash, leaving the crew struggling to regain control. 

Both planes were fitted with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) – an automated safety feature designed to prevent the plane from entering into a stall, or losing lift. 

MCAS was introduced by Boeing on the 737 Max 8 because its heavier, more fuel-efficient engines changed the aerodynamic qualities of the workhorse aircraft and can cause the plane’s nose to pitch up in certain conditions during manual flight. 

Angle of attack sensors on the aircraft tell the MCAS to automatically point the nose of the plane down if it is in danger of going into a stall.

This is done through horizontal stabilizers on the plane’s tail which are activated by the aircraft’s flight control computer. 

According to Boeing, MCAS does not control the plane during normal flight but ‘improves the behavior of the airplane’ during ‘non-normal’ situations.

These could be steep turns or after takeoff when a plane is climbing with flaps up at speeds that are close to stall speed.

According to the flight data recorder, the pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 struggled to control the aircraft as the automated MCAS system repeatedly pushed the plane’s nose down following takeoff.

The pilots of the Ethiopian Airlines plane reported similar difficulty before the aircraft plunged into the ground shortly after takeoff.  

The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded since mid-March following the two deadly crashes of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines that together claimed 346 lives. 

The first, a Lion Air flight, crashed into the Java Sea on October 29, while Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed to the ground on March 10 after nose-diving at speed shortly after take-off.

After the global grounding, Boeing announced it was making changes to the Max’s flight-control computers and rewriting software that mistakenly activated on the two flights.  

Ewbank added: ‘It is not possible to say for certain that any actual implementation of synthetic airspeed on the 737 Max would have prevented the accidents.’

But he argued the move to not implement it show a culture at Boeing that focused on profit. 

A former senior Boeing employee told The New York Times the system was discussed but said his comments placed too much importance on the system.

They said his complaint also understated how difficult it would be to add the system to the 737 Max.

A Boeing spokesman told DailyMail.com: ‘Safety, quality and integrity are at the core of Boeing’s values. 

‘Boeing offers its employees a number of channels for raising concerns and complaints and has rigorous processes in place, both to ensure that such complaints receive thorough consideration and to protect the confidentiality of employees who make them. 

‘Accordingly, Boeing does not comment on the substance or existence of such internal complaints.’

 



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