Some American Airlines pilots are furious about the Boeing 737 MAX secret recording

The Allied Pilots Association grabbed national headlines this week when its president released a secret audio recording, in which American Airlines pilots can be heard asking Boeing officials tough questions about the safety of the 737 MAX aircraft.

But some association members are furious with the decision to release the audio by President Dan Carey, who is in the midst of a heated runoff election to keep his seat at the top of the pilots’ labor union. Ballots for the runoff were mailed to union members May 10 and are due back to union headquarters in Fort Worth by May 31.

The recording was made in November apparently without the knowledge of the Boeing officials who had traveled to North Texas to meet with the pilots in the wake of an Oct. 29 crash of a Boeing 737 MAX operated by Lion Air. The aircraft crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people aboard.

About four months after the secret recording was made, another 737 MAX jet — this one operated by Ethiopian Airlines — crashed after takeoff March 10 in the African country, killing all 157 people aboard.

In both crashes, investigators are looking at a sensor system known as the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), which Boeing designers placed on the 737 MAX controls to help keep the aircraft’s nose from pointing too far upward and possibly causing a stall.

In both incidents, the pilots battled the aircraft controls, which appeared to be erroneously pushing the planes’ noses downward while the pilots were trying to gain altitude after takeoff.

Joe Collins, a union board member based in Washington, D.C., sent an email to fellow pilots Friday explaining that he had no knowledge of the secret recording of Boeing officials, and that the union board of directors had not authorized anyone to make the recording.

Collins said secretly recording conversations hurts the union’s reputation, and its relationship with Boeing and other manufacturers.

“Please consider how you would feel if you were having frank discussions with someone and then subsequently, many months later, you learned that what you discussed had been recorded without your knowledge and then released to the news media. (allegedly) How would that affect your relationship with that individual?” Collins wrote in the email. “Would you trust them in the future?”

Also, the comments by pilots heard in the recording, which was first published by The Dallas Morning News, seemed to contradict the official position of the union, which until the recording was publicly released had spoke only in full support of Boeing.

The union even issued a press release March 12, saying, “We have reviewed data for more than 14,000 flights since the Lion Air Flight 610 accident in Indonesia last October, and we have not seen a single anomaly related to the MCAS (sensors).”

Carey did not return calls Friday seeking comment. Gregg Overman, union spokesman, declined to comment on matters related to the election.

Dan Carey
Dan Carey is president of the Allied Pilots Association at American Airlines. Brandon Wade Star-Telegram

Eric Ferguson, who is in a runoff with Carey for the union presidency, called Carey’s decision to release the secret audio a “cleverly-timed leak” in an email that Ferguson sent to all 15,000 pilots represented by the association.

“Notice how only now, during the runoff, his campaign sent a message boasting of having just released this secret recording of industry guests that were invited to APA related to 737 MAX concerns,” Ferguson wrote.

He added that Carey “must think that the majority of our pilots believe it to be acceptable (and admirable, even) to secretly record anyone at anytime, and use it for political purposes under whatever pretext they choose when they think the timing is right.”

Patrick O’Rourke, who is in a runoff for the office of union vice president against incumbent Timothy Hamel, also lambasted Carey’s decision in an email to all 15,000 pilots.

“The latest communication debacle of secretly recording a meeting with Boeing without their consent, then leaking it to the press more than six months later is a shocking example of terrible judgment and waste of union resources,” O’Rourke wrote. “The main resource wasted, in this case, is APA’s credibility for no other reason than a well-timed campaign soundbite.”

A copy of the emails was provided to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram by an American Airlines pilot not involved in the union election. The contents of the emails were verified by several other pilots who had also received the emails, and also weren’t involved in the election.

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.