Boeing has been partially outsourcing software development to low-paid subcontractors to save costs, Bloomberg has learned, suggesting that inadequate quality control practices may have contributed to fatal 737 MAX crashes.
Newly graduated programmers employed by third-party software developers – including Indian HCL Technologies Ltd and Cyient Ltd – were making as little as $9 an hour, roughly four times less than their own experienced engineers who Boeing was actively laying off. The company reportedly outsourced flight-display software and programs for flight-test equipment. While the final code allegedly complied with their strict specifications, the efficiency of such work was below expectations, as subcontractors were pressured to avoid any major changes that could cause delay.
“It was controversial because it was far less efficient than Boeing engineers just writing the code,” Mark Rabin, a former Boeing software engineer who worked in a flight-test group that supported the MAX, told Bloomberg.
It took many rounds going back and forth because the code was not done correctly.
The American aerospace giant is in hot water following two fatal 737 MAX crashes which claimed a total of 346 lives. Both the Lion Air crash in Indonesia and the Ethiopian Airlines disasters were linked to the improper work of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was designed to prevent the plane from stalling, but instead sent the aircraft into nosedives.
While both Boeing and HTC stressed that subcontractors were not involved in developing either the notorious MCAS nor the critical cockpit warning system, Bloomberg claims that third-party engineers did participate in some of the 737 MAX’s software development. At least one HTC employer apparently claimed in their resume that they had come up with a “quick workaround” that helped “resolve [a] production issue” that could have caused delays and cost Boeing a lot of money.
“Boeing was doing all kinds of things, everything you can imagine, to reduce cost, including moving work from Puget Sound [outside of Seattle, Washington] because we’d become very expensive here,” a former Boeing flight controls engineer, Rick Ludtke, told the publication.
In addition to saving costs and production time, the involvement of Indian companies in particular “appeared to pay other dividends” for the American corporation, which was able to secure multi-billion-dollar contracts with the Indian military and commercial airlines, according to the report.