The Boeing 737 MAX airliner has been grounded in America since last March, and was grounded in many other countries before that, thanks to two tragic crashes, one an Ethiopian Airlines flight, and one an Indonesian Lion Air flight that killed 189 people. That crash was blamed partially on a new flight-control system installed on the planes, and partially on poor pilot training and an unfamiliarity with the new system. Newly-released internal Boeing documents show that when Lion Air requested more training on these new systems, they were insulted by Boeing employees.
The new flight control system is known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) and is designed to help combat a flying condition known as “stalling,” where the plane can lose lift if its angle of attack—the angle between the wing and the surrounding airflow—is too high.
In practice, the MCAS system seems to have malfunctioned and caused the plane to pitch its nose downward when not needed, and the system was confusing to override when it failed, which relates directly to the lack of proper training for pilots.
Boeing had been touting the 737 MAX as an aircraft that would require minimal to no new training for pilots, which would save airlines a lot of money. This was a major selling point of the new plane.
Boeing provided the Federal Aviation Administration with over 100 pages of internal documentation relating to the 737 MAX situation, and a number of those documents show that Boeing employees were not supportive of airline requests for more training for the aircraft.
Documents were released to the media with redactions, but Bloomberg was able to get unredacted documents from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and those documents called out Lion Air by name.
Bloomberg’s article today included quotes from internal emails from Boeing employees discussing the requests for more training on the 737 MAX’s new systems, and, um, they don’t really come off terribly well for Boeing. Here’s an example email from 2017:
“Now friggin Lion Air might need a sim to fly the MAX, and maybe because of their own stupidity. I’m scrambling trying to figure out how to unscrew this now! idiots,”
OK, maybe that’s just one, isolated example of a high-strung Boeing employee who’s maybe kind of an asshole. Then again, maybe not, as this was a response from a colleague:
“WHAT THE F%$&!!!! But their sister airline is already flying it!”
Do all Boeing employees freak out this quickly? If so, the walls of their cubicles must look like Jackson Pollack paintings from all the spit-taken coffee. And can’t any of them actually use proper profanity?
More critically, though, it’s unreal that a company manufacturing a complex aircraft would express such contempt and shock that pilots would want training on the updated systems. You’d think it’d welcome that, as it would help guarantee the new systems are being properly used, and would prevent, oh, terrible crashes, which would prevent grounding aircraft, loss of sales, losing money, all that.
And, oh yeah, not killing anyone.
This dismissive attitude toward an airline attempting to prepare their pilots to be as safe as possible is incredibly disturbing. Also disturbing is that Boeing’s pressure worked, with Lion Air eventually accepting that it wouldn’t need additional training.
Bloomberg was unable to get a comment from Boeing, but a message sent from Greg Smith, Boeing’s interim CEO, to Boeing employees, addressed the documents:
“These documents do not represent the best of Boeing. The tone and language of the messages are inappropriate, particularly when used in discussion of such important matters, and they do not reflect who we are as a company or the culture we’ve created.”
Yeah, no shit, Greg. No wonder you make the big bucks.
The U.S. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee investigation is still ongoing. Chair Peter DeFazio issued a statement about the released emails, pointing out that these were not isolated issues with isolated parts or employees:
“These newly-released emails are incredibly damning. They paint a deeply disturbing picture of the lengths Boeing was apparently willing to go to in order to evade scrutiny from regulators, flight crews, and the flying public, even as its own employees were sounding alarms internally. I can only imagine how painful it must be for the families of the 346 victims to read these new documents that detail some of the earliest and most fundamental errors in the decisions that went into the fatally flawed aircraft.
“For nearly 10 months, my Committee has been investigating the design, development and certification of the MAX, and in that time, our investigation has uncovered multiple, serious problems with Boeing’s decision-making and the priority that was placed on production and profit over safety. But these new emails bring my concerns to an entirely new level. They show a coordinated effort dating back to the earliest days of the 737 MAX program to conceal critical information from regulators and the public. While it is also clear from these emails that the problems did not merely stem from a lone Boeing employee who uses colorful language in his communications, I have reiterated my request for an interview with former Boeing 737 MAX Chief Technical Pilot Mark Forkner to his attorneys, and I expect to hear from them at the earliest possible date.”
We have reached out to Boeing for comment, and here’s what it provided:
Boeing statement on documents provided today to Congress:
In December, Boeing proactively brought these communications to the FAA’s attention in furtherance of the company’s commitment to transparency with our regulator and strong safety oversight of our industry. We also provided copies to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in recognition of their oversight functions. These documents have been released publicly at the encouragement of Chairman DeFazio and Chairman Wicker.
Some of these communications relate to the development and qualification of Boeing’s MAX simulators in 2017 and 2018. These communications contain provocative language, and, in certain instances, raise questions about Boeing’s interactions with the FAA in connection with the simulator qualification process.
Having carefully reviewed the issue, we are confident that all of Boeing’s MAX simulators are functioning effectively. The qualification activities referenced in these communications occurred early in the service life of these simulators. Since that time, both internal and external subject matter experts have repeatedly tested and qualified the simulators at issue. Indeed, more than twenty regulatory qualifications of MAX simulators, performed by the FAA and multiple international regulators, have been conducted since early 2017. The specific Miami simulator that was used for the early qualification tests has been re-evaluated six times during this time period. The simulator software has been constantly improving during this time, through repeated cycles of testing, qualification, and revision of the software code.
These communications do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable. That said, we remain confident in the regulatory process for qualifying these simulators.
In the context of providing these communications to the FAA, and having carefully considered the FAA’s perspective on these matters, we also decided to provide additional documents that were identified in the course of legal reviews of the 737 MAX program. We provided these documents to the FAA and Congress as a reflection of our commitment to transparency and cooperation with the authorities responsible for regulating and overseeing our industry. We welcome, and will fully support, any additional review the FAA believes is appropriate in connection with any of these matters, as well as the continued involvement of the relevant congressional committees with these issues.
We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them. We have made significant changes as a company to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture. The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response. This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.
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UBS logs surprise 9% rise in Q3 net profit
UBS posted a 9% rise in third-quarter net profit on Tuesday, as continued trading helped the world’s largest wealth manager to its best quarterly profit since 2015.
Its third-quarter net profit of $2.279 billion far outpaced a median estimate of $1.596 billion from a poll of 23 analysts compiled by Switzerland’s largest bank.
“Our business momentum, our focus on fueling growth, on disciplined execution and on delivering our full ecosystem to clients – all of this led to another strong quarter across all of our business divisions and regions,” Chief Executive Ralph Hamers said in a statement.
In each of the last four quarters, UBS saw double-digit percent gains in net profit as buoyant markets helped it generate higher earnings off of managing money for the rich.
From July through September, favourable market conditions, and higher lending and trading amongst its wealthy clientele, unexpectedly helped raise earnings over the bumper levels reported in the third quarter of last year.
(Reporting by Oliver Hirt and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Michael Shields and Edwina Gibbs)
Analysis: Capitol Hill drug pricing reform opponents among the biggest beneficiaries of pharma funds
Democratic Party lawmakers holding up proposed drug pricing reforms are among the largest beneficiaries of the pharmaceutical industry’s push to stave off price cuts, a Reuters analysis of public lobbying and campaign data shows.
The industry, which traditionally gives more to Republicans, channeled around 60% of donated campaign funds to Democrats this year. It has spent over $177 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2021.
Nonprofit political action committees (PACs) run by Pfizer Inc and Amgen Inc and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) were among the biggest donors, according to political spending data from OpenSecrets, formerly the Center for Responsive Politics.
Drugmakers are seeking to block laws that would give the U.S. government authority to negotiate prices for prescription medicines. Current U.S. law bars the government’s Medicare health insurance program from negotiating drug prices directly.
Many of the Democrats opposing an ambitious drug reduction bill proposed in the House of Representatives are among some of the biggest recipients of drug manufacturer lobbying funds.
They include Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Representative Scott Peters of California, OpenSecrets data covering industry donations through September of 2021 shows. In all, they have received around $1 million in pharmaceutical and health product industry donations this year.
A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to a request for comment on the funds she has received but said the Senator supports making drugs as cheap as possible for patients.
Menendez and Peters said the donations did not influence their views. All three said they are opposed to The Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which is sponsored by Democrats in the House of Representatives and also known as H.R.3.
Menendez and Peters have advocated for alternative scaled-back drug pricing reforms that would still allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices but would lead to significantly smaller savings.
Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who is also one of the top recipients of drugmaker donations, voted in favor of H.R.3.
Sinema, who campaigned in 2018 on cutting drug prices, told the White House she opposes allowing Medicare to negotiate them. She received about $466,000 from the industry in 2021, according to OpenSecrets data.
Peters was the top recipient of pharmaceutical industry funds in the House this year at nearly $99,550, according to OpenSecrets data. A spokesperson said Peters was not influenced by lobbying money and opposed the proposed law to protect pharmaceutical industry jobs and innovation.
Drugmakers say the Democrats’ proposed drug price overhaul would undermine their ability to develop new medicines, an argument they have used whenever price cuts are discussed by politicians regardless of political party.
“Patients face a future with less hope under Congress’ current drug pricing plan,” PhRMA Chief Executive Steve Ubl said in an August statement in reference to the proposed law. PhRMA declined to comment on donating to key Democratic opponents of the bill.
The United States is an outlier as most other developed nations do negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.
Amgen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on its donations and Pfizer declined to comment.
PROSPECTS FOR REFORM
President Joe Biden has vowed to cut medicine costs, in part by allowing the federal government to negotiate drug payments by Medicare, which covers Americans aged 65 and older.
But prospects for major drug pricing reforms have stalled in recent weeks amid opposition from centrist Democrats including Sinema and Peters. Negotiations are ongoing, eight Democratic staffers said.
The lawmakers’ resistance comes as 83% of Americans support allowing Medicare to negotiate medicine costs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The United States spends more than twice as much per person on drugs as other wealthy economies, about $1,500, for a total of around $350 billion in 2019.
“Members of Congress don’t always mirror the views of the public and the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful lobbying force,” said Larry Levitt, a health economist at Kaiser.
The healthcare industry is the second largest industry lobbying group in the United States behind the finance sector. It donated more than $600 million to politicians ahead of the 2020 elections.
The pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars per year to sway federal and state policy. But current Democratic leadership has the industry concerned major reforms could actually be enacted and is working harder to offer alternatives such as reducing insurance co-pays, one industry source said. “It’s been sort of a mad scramble.”
Corporations in the United States are not permitted to make direct contributions to candidates but can give money through PACs. Most corporate PACs, including Pfizer’s and Amgen’s, are run by company managers and employees.
Democrats and some drug price experts say the Lower Drug Costs Now Act could save U.S. taxpayers and consumers billions annually with relatively minor impact on innovation.
A House Oversight and Reform Committee report showed that top drugmakers have spent around $50 billion more on share buybacks and dividends than research and development between 2016 and 2020.
Lovisa Gustafsson, a healthcare policy analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit healthcare advocacy group, said, “There are other ways that we can incentivize innovation, aside from just paying huge margins for pharmaceutical companies.”
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)
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