NYT: Boeing engineer filed complaint alleging profit over safety

A senior Boeing engineer filed an internal ethics complaint this year following two fatal 737 Max crashes, claiming that the company rejected a safety system during the plane’s development to cut costs though it could have reduced the risks, according to the New York Times.

In the complaint, which Boeing has sent to the Justice Department, the engineer Curtis Ewbank alleged, “Boeing management was more concerned with cost and schedule than safety or quality,” according to the newspaper, which has reviewed the complaint.

“I was willing to stand up for safety and quality, but was unable to actually have an effect in those areas,” Ewbank said in the complaint, the Times reported.

Ewbank also called out Boeing’s chief executive Dennis Muilenburg for publicly misrepresenting the safety of the plane, the newspaper reported.

Muilenburg is set to speak to the New York Economic Club Wednesday afternoon.

CNN has reached out to Ewbank for comment. His LinkedIn profile shows that he worked on the 737 Max, among other models, as a systems engineer from July 2010 to April 2015. Ewbank said in his complaint that he left Boeing, in part, over concerns that the company was not prioritizing safety, the Times noted. He returned to Boeing in 2018 and is currently working on its 777X jetliner, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Boeing said in a statement provided to CNN that “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,” the company said.

The Seattle Times reported earlier on the complaint.

In his complaint, Ewbank alleged that a chief test pilot of the 737 Max and other engineers wanted to study the possibility of installing synthetic airspeed, a new system that calculates airspeed using different data, to the plane, the Times reported.

But a Boeing executive, according to Ewbank, decided not to given the system’s potential costs and effect on training requirements for pilots, the Times reported.

The synthetic airspeed system could detect when the plane’s angle of attack sensors are malfunctioning and prevent other systems from reacting to that incorrect data, Ewbank said, the Times reported.

But he 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,” the Times reported.

In both 737 Max crashes, investigators believe that a false angle of attack reading had triggered the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which detects when the aircraft is flying too slowly or steeply, and is at risk of stalling. The automated system repeatedly pushed the planes’ noses downward, plunging them into fatal and unrecoverable dives.

Boeing provided Ewbank’s complaint to the Justice Department as part of a criminal investigation into the Max design, a person with knowledge of the inquiry told the Times. Federal investigators have interviewed at least one former Boeing employee about the allegations, said another person with knowledge of the discussions, the Times reported.

The Department of Justice did not comment to CNN.

The Times noted that it’s unclear whether investigators have made an assessment of the complaint.

News of the complaint comes at a pivotal time for Boeing.

Boeing is facing multiple lawsuits and federal investigations related to the 737 Max after it was involved in two fatal crashes within five months.

The company has said it hopes regulators will deem the 737 Max safe and clear the aircraft, which is Boeing’s top-selling plane, to fly again by this month. But it’s unclear when the 737 Max will be allowed to return to service.

Boeing completed a software fix to the MCAS, but said previously said it would wouldn’t be able to present that fix to aviation authorities until September at the earliest, and it hopes to have a certification flight this month.

Boeing’s 737 Max jets were grounded worldwide in March after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board. It came five months after the crash of Lion Air Flight 610, also a 737 Max, in October 2018 in Indonesia. All 189 people on board were killed.

The groundings have led to a loss in billions of dollars for the company, a steep decline in plane orders, and could upend its plans for a new mid-size airplane.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered inspections of the Boeing 737 Next Generation planes after the company notified the agency of structural cracks.

CNN’s Rene Marsh and CNN Business’ Chris Isidore contributed to this report.