Boeing Outsourced 737 Max Software ‘Critical For Flight Test’ To $9-An-Hour Engineers

The tails of Boeing 737 MAX airplanes are seen as they sit parked at a Boeing facility adjacent to King County International Airport, known as Boeing Field.
David Ryder / Getty Images

A recent Bloomberg report reveals some shocking information on the cause of the two Boeing 737 Max crashes that resulted from some basic software mistakes: some of the software development work was outsourced to engineers who were paid $9 per hour.

Boeing has reportedly been outsourcing temporary work at an increasing rate, and the report suggests that the Max software was being developed by workers that made as little as $9 an hour — in many cases from countries like India, which don’t have a strong background in aerospace.

Indian software developer HCL Technologies Ltd. reportedly contributed many employees, and while the workers were required to follow Boeing specifications, Mark Rabin — a former Boeing software engineer who worked in support of the Max code — said that “it took many rounds going back and forth because the code was not done correctly.”

Business Today reports that Boeing even fired several senior engineers that the company didn’t believe were needed, as the company felt their products were far enough along in the development cycle.

“I was shocked,” Rabin, who was laid off in 2015, said of the meeting wherein he was told senior engineers weren’t needed.

Bloomberg reports that resumes leaked to social media suggest that HCL engineers helped both develop and test the Max’s flight-display software, software that was “critical for flight test.” The resumes also point to another Indian company, Cyient Ltd., that was responsible for flight-test equipment.

A Boeing company spokesperson denies relying on engineers from HCL or Cyient for the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which is what was linked to the Lion Air crash last October, as well as the Ethiopian Airlines disaster in March.

“Boeing has many decades of experience working with supplier/partners around the world. Our primary focus is on always ensuring that our products and services are safe, of the highest quality and comply with all applicable regulations.”

HCL refused to comment on “specific work” it had conducted for Boeing.

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Regardless, it appears that Boeing attempted to slash their costs as much as they could during the development of the 737 Max software, and this budgetary action might have contributed to the crashes.

Rick Ludtke, a former Boeing flight controls engineer, was laid off in 2017. He attests to this focus.

“Boeing was doing all kinds of things, everything you can imagine, to reduce cost, including moving work from Puget Sound, because we’d become very expensive here. All that’s very understandable if you think of it from a business perspective.”

Ludtke claims that over time, this focus on reducing costs made it more difficult for Puget Sounds designers to continue working for Boeing.