Too much trust placed in one company.
The more that comes out about the Boeing 737 MAX, the worse it gets. This model Boeing crashed twice in six months, the first time last October in Indonesia, the second time last month in Ethiopia. Whatever the final conclusion on the causes of the two recent crashes of this souped up Boeing model turn out to be, it is already clear that Boeing cut corners on safety in a rush to beat out its European competitor, Airbus.
• Not all pilots were sufficiently trained on the Boeing 737 MAX’s new software that, ironically, was supposed to guard against crashes, but is now implicated in the two crashes. But even if it turns out that the crashes were not caused by this software. that is cold comfort. Since when is it OK not to train pilots sufficiently?
• The “fix” to the implicated software was itself sped up beyond the time required to get it right. It was supposed to be ready this week, according to Boeing. But it turns out that it’s a lot more complicated to fix. Put it differently: Before the second crash, when Boeing was working to fix the software, it was working more or less under the radar. The first crash in Indonesia notwithstanding, Boeing was not subject to the blazing glare of bad publicity and probing questions that followed the second crash. When it was mostly out of the limelight, Boeing regarded the software fix as a relatively speedy deal. But after the second crash, it turns out, says Boeing, that it will take a lot longer to fix this software.
• There is a double safety feature available on this software, but Boeing did not make its mandatory. It apparently cost an extra $50,000 per plane. Apparently, some US airlines paid for it, but Boeing sold the plane to others without it.
• Boeing, or at least sources close to Boeing, maintain that pilots in various locales outside the US are not so well trained as pilots in the US. Therefore, it was necessary for Boeing to establish double standards of care in the design of this software — because otherwise, Boeing would not be able to deliver on time all of the 737 Max’s under order. If that’s not cutting safety corners, we don’t know what is. Boeing should get the software right, and get the pilot training right, however long it takes, without regard for what amounts to premature deadlines for aircraft delivery.
• Speaking of premature deliveries: After the first crash last October, after Boeing knew it needed to “fix” its software but before it has fixed it, Boeing still delivered tens of new 737 MAX’s to airlines in both the US and abroad.
• The technical and timing details of all of these failures should not obscure Boeing’s more basic, fundamental, structural failing: Its excessive reliance on technology at the expense of human piloting to fly the 737 MAX safely. Pilots, of course, are not perfect, but absolutely deadly is a software malfunction that puts a plane into a nosedive that no pilot can reverse.
Again, whether any of these designs and procedures of Boeing actually caused the two crashes is not yet known. Does it make a difference? What kind of confidence can the flying public have in a company that cuts corners on safety? Sooner or later, this corner-cutting will cause crashes — and maybe it already did. Twice.
Not to mention, the Federal Aviation Administration became the fox guarding the henhouse. The FAA relied in part on Boeing to certify its own safety! That is a breathtaking governmental failure, one that the attendant publicity will, we trust, put an end to.
The incest goes further. It’s not just Boeing and the government. It’s Boeing and the airlines. This one quote from Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Continental Holdings Inc., says it all. Keep in mind, the CEO spoke on March 7, three days before the second crash of the 737 MAX, flown by a United code-share partner airline: “Our pilots are trained to deal with any of these issues. Just fly the darn airplane — that’s what they’re taught.”
Just fly the darn airplane, no matter how many people die. So much for the “safety first” claims of United Airlines.
So just how comforting will the stiffened back of the FAA — and Boeing’s fixes — be to the bereaved families?
For decades Boeing has enjoyed wide public trust, from many presidents of the US on down — too much trust. For decades, flying has been the safest way to travel — as if that somehow excuses corner-cutting on safety or somehow minimizes the crashes that do occur. No, don’t just fly the darn airplane —not in the face of a tragic wake-up call.
What has been exposed are systemic inadequacies in the safety culture of a company, Boeing, that is the largest supplier of aircraft worldwide.
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