A report by the House Committee on Transportation belatedly confirms what was widely sensed by working people shortly after 346 people died in two airline crashes of Boeing 737 MAX planes. Both “accidents” were caused by disregard for human life by the bosses at Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, which is supposed to regulate the company.
In 2018 a Lion Air jet plunged into the Java Sea after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia, and the following year an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed after takeoff from Addis Ababa.
The Sept. 16 report blames “grossly insufficient oversight” by the FAA and the “culture” at Boeing. It also acknowledges that regulators certified the planes as safe to fly even though FAA and Boeing officials say they did not fully understand how they were designed.
“It was an unforgivable crime, and Boeing still wants to return the aircraft to service quickly,” Ababu Amha, whose wife was a flight attendant who died on the Ethiopian Airlines jet, told the Washington Post.
In a rush to compete with the new fuel-efficient European-based Airbus A320neo, profit-hungry bosses at Boeing refitted the 737, bypassing crucial safety measures.
When heavier engines were installed farther forward on the wings, the 737 MAX’s nose would tend to tilt up and potentially put the plane in an aerodynamic stall. The company fitted automated software to take over control of the plane and force the nose down. But if there was a false sensor reading, the new system would prevent pilots from overriding it manually.
In the rush to get the planes sold and in the air many flight crews were never trained on the new system — and mention of it was removed from flight manuals. To sell more planes, Boeing told airline companies no new 737 pilot training was needed. In both crashes pilots were unable to gain control as the system pushed the planes’ noses down and they plunged from the skies.
The system was not inspected by the FAA, and “optional” alert lights warning of a malfunction were not working on most planes. The crash report says Boeing bosses concealed this from both pilots and regulators.
For months the FAA ignored the real possibility of another disaster after the first crash, calling it a “one-off” accident.
Since the 737 MAX was finally grounded worldwide, over Boeing’s objections, the company and the FAA have been working strenuously to get them back in the air with a software upgrade.
As demand for long-haul travel on large jets has plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company says it needs to get the midsize 737 MAX flying again.
Boeing bosses are not alone in getting the FAA to turn a blind eye to their disregard for safety. Southwest Airlines grounded 115 planes Sept. 17 because of “discrepancies” in weight reports of the planes’ cargoes, which are used to determine how many passengers can be carried safely and how to distribute its load. A government audit this year found the FAA routinely allowed Southwest to fly without verified takeoff weights.
“The solution is not more government regulation, or creating a better ‘culture’ at Boeing,” Malcolm Jarrett, Socialist Workers Party 2020 candidate for vice president, told the Militant. “Government agencies like the FAA are organized to protect the U.S. bosses.
“The only way to enforce safety is for workers and our unions to wrest control of production out of the bosses’ hands,” Jarrett said. “This is the only way decisions can be made in the interests of working people, not doing whatever maximizes profits.”