Boeing reorganises pilots after MAX crisis exposes dysfunction

CHICAGO: Boeing Co is reorganising its piloting staff into a more cohesive unit after a disjointed reporting structure contributed to communications lapses while the 737 Max was being developed.

The move, effective Jan 17, affects company aviators who train commercial airline pilots, prepare jets for delivery and develop training materials and flight crew manuals.

Instead of being divided between two divisions, they will now join Boeing’s elite flight-test pilots in a single unit, Boeing Test and Evaluation, according to an internal memo viewed by Bloomberg News.

The shift is part of a broader shakeup of Boeing’s engineering corps that was announced last September after a special board committee delved into the cultural rifts that contributed to design oversights with the MAX.

A flight control subsystem, which wasn’t disclosed to airline flight crews, played a role in two fatal crashes that killed 346 people and prompted a worldwide grounding.

Combining the pilots in a single unit will “strengthen flight operations excellence across the enterprise, including by enhancing the rigour and transparency of our regulatory interactions,” Ted Colbert, head of Boeing Global Services, said in the memo.

‘Enterprise realignment’

The affected pilots had been part of Colbert’s division, which sells services, maintenance and spare parts to airlines.

“This action is not about any one set of discussions or events but is part of a larger enterprise realignment activity,” a Boeing spokesman said by email.

Dave Calhoun, Boeing’s new chief executive officer, vowed to “simplify” the company’s operations in his first message to employees this week.

Former pilots and engineers described workplace tensions after Boeing shifted the teams of pilots who train customers and prepare safety manuals to a separate, profit-making entity.

That organisation, now part of Boeing Global Services, was trying to win a larger share of the market to train pilots worldwide.

Boeing moved its Seattle-area flight simulators to a training centre in Miami in the midst of Max development in 2013.

The changes left the MAX’s cockpit designers and test pilots in Seattle with a lack of input from the instructors who regularly saw how the typical airline pilot responded to unusual situations, Bloomberg News reported in December.

It was from a Miami hotel room that Mark Forkner, who then oversaw the team writing manuals and honing flight simulators as chief technical pilot, fired off messages to a colleague berating Max customers and designers.

Internal messages

Some of his communications were included in internal messages that were revealed in October.

Those discussions showed the pressure exerted by Boeing executives to get the Max into service quickly, said a key lawmaker in the US Congress.

Boeing disclosed another batch of internal memos and employee messages last week.

While it’s not clear if Boeing will shift trainers and simulators back to Seattle, combining pilots in the same group is an “improvement,” said Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, a labour union.

Boeing shifted the training operation and equipment across the country to Florida in 2013, months after trainers and manual-writers voted to join the union.

“While you’ve heard us complain a lot, some of us still hold out hope that Calhoun in his new role will actually put some of this nonsense aside and embrace unionized workers as workers,” said Rich Plunkett, director of strategic development for the union.