Whistleblower (Now Deceased) Voiced 737 MAX Concerns In 2017
27-Year-Old Engineer Was Scouring Internet For Evidence & Hoped To Avert An Aviation Crisis
ORANGE COUNTY, CA — Around New Year’s Day 2018, Brandon Nelson, an aerospace engineer living Santa Monica, California, was scouring the internet for reports of aviation emergencies. Nelson, 26, feared that commercial airplane crashes were imminent.
The target geographical areas of Nelson’s web searches were Asia, South America, and Africa.
Following the recent, notable 737 MAX crashes of Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 — Nelson’s story has resulted in a disturbing puzzle. This puzzle must be pieced-back together considering Nelson’s untimely death, which was ruled a suicide, just seventeen months ago.
Despite no conclusive report in regards to either “MAX” crash — preliminary and most initial media reports overwhelmingly placed blame on software called: “MCAS.” Allegedly, MCAS was (aircraft-maker) Boeing’s compensatory move to protect pilots from hazards presented when adding newer, more fuel-efficient (albeit larger) engines to a half-century-old airframe.
A confidential source (and First Officer on the 737) working at Southwest Airlines believes that Boeing “included the MCAS fearing liability.” To explain, the source added that “undertrained foreign pilots are not as proficient or confident in their ability to operate an airplane manually.”
A simulator mockup does corroborate the pilot’s claim that a well-trained aviator could remedy this problem. Also, the 737 MAX has a pristine safety record within the FAA’s jurisdiction. More recently, U.S. regulators asked investigators (in addition to inquiring into Boeing’s software system), to explore the integrity of foreign pilot training.
Nelson was concerned with widely-used hydraulic valves produced by his (former) employer, Precision Castparts Corp. (a Boeing supplier) which is a subsidiary of Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway, Inc.
“(Nelson) was emphatic (these faulty parts) could bring down an airplane,” according to Charles Sena, 62, of Orange County, CA. In December 2017, Nelson approached Sena, hoping his father’s Columbia MBA classmate would assist him in lodging a whistleblower action.
A confidential source (a co-worker of Nelson) admits, “these were flight-critical parts.” Nelson’s concern was that the relevant hydraulic fittings produced at PCC-owned Permiswage’s plant in Gardena, CA were not being built to customer specification. He felt that at a time shortly, failures would begin to materialize, in mass,” Sena recalled.
A second confidential source who worked with the whistleblower at PCC recalled Nelson’s concern with: “overcomplicated airplanes intermixed with under-trained pilots.” The same source revealed, “Brandon felt the 737 MAX was an extremely ‘overcomplicated’ aircraft and a faulty part on-board, could result in an exacerbation of, or lead-to: many errors.”
In late 2017, Nelson signed, sealed, and stamped both an FAA complaint, and a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor. When contacted for comment, the FAA stated they “randomly selected and evaluated three Permaswage purchase order packages.” Additionally, an FAA spokesperson said they “randomly inspected three parts in the company’s inventory.”
The investigation found no irregularities.
Quoted in a May article (that I published) called “Oracle Of The Sky? Precision Castparts, Not Just Boeing, Has ‘Work To Do’” is an aviation safety expert, who said, “even to someone completely removed from aviation, it would make obvious sense that the FAA inspect at least one of these parts that were already installed in an aircraft.” They added the nature of the inquiry “doesn’t set the stage for independent analysis,” and that (as is standard for the FAA) advance notice was likely given.
A search of Nelson’s living space (shown in the video embedded herein) yielded clues, including a sheet of paper with big letters that is seen below (left):
Those words (written by Sena) urged Nelson to approach Berkshire Hathaway in-order to invoke change. Sena opined that “Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, seem like honorable men.” Buffett, in particular, has lauded PCC’s CEO, Mark Donegan, a manager that, according to Bloomberg News’ Noah Buhayar, is “highly effective but at times strains basic decency.”
While owning major stakes in all four major U.S. airlines, wholly owning the largest aviation training and safety instruction company in the world, and admittedly owning an “oligopoly” in the parts industry, Warren Buffet also said (following the second 737 Max crash) that Boeing, “obviously has a lot of work to do, very promptly.”
Buffet even said his stance on the aviation industry is that it’s “not a suicidal” business anymore. Moreover he likened his seizure of controlling interest in Delta Airlines, through a share repurchase, to an “accident.” He also said the move to ‘#1 owner status” was like “losing his virginity.”
Despite Boeing’s humble acceptance of fault in the media, several eyewitness accounts in Ethiopia mention smoke and/or flames were billowing from that aircraft’s tail, before impact. Smoke and/or flames could be a hydraulic-related issue and is extremely unlikely to be connected to any software system. I don’t disagree that the MCAS experienced a(n) (albeit very low probability) malfunction, It’s challenging to deem MCAS a sole “cause.”
Looking back, Sena described Nelson’s categorization of the FAA inquiry as: “a whitewash.”
A few weeks ago, The New York Times alleged that the FAA’s role has become “a broken regulatory process that effectively neutered the oversight authority of the agency.” The first source we mentioned (another PCC engineer), has remained in the industry and believes that “a lot of times it’s sampled inspection, and it’s hard to even tell what went into the part that you sell at the end of the day.”
The first aforementioned co-worker (turned-source) of Nelson’s believes Boeing is “no more than fifty percent of the problem.” This source added that PCC was interested in “price gouging as opposed to cost-cutting.” This source believed regulators “should be looking at quality control systems of the aerospace industry, as a whole.”
Intriguingly, this source learned of Nelson’s death just before the release of my aforementioned May 7th article, noting, “I have remained in contact with PCC employees, and Berkshire was starting to get (your) journalistic inquisitions into (Nelson’s) FAA complaint and where it led.
The source heard this shortly after I left messages for Todd Combs, the point guard for Berkshire Hathaway overseeing the $37 billion PCC investment, along with Warren Buffett.
(**The same parties, except for Boeing (who kindly returned a call, however, declined to offer to comment), have not returned calls this time around, either.)
Not only was Berkshire, allegedly, wary of my inquiry, but the source was also quite downtrodden and sad to hear of Nelson’s passing. The source recalled that Brandon Nelson, the courageous whistleblower, was: “the smartest kid I’ve ever worked with.”