After months of controversy and consequences, Boeing may end 737 Max production
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
When news of the Boeing 737 Max crashes in Indonesia (October 2018) and Ethiopia (March 2019) spread, repercussions were immense. Someone had to be held accountable for 346 deaths.
Crash death tolls were accompanied by predictable foot dragging. The usual culprits were blamed, including airplane parts production workers and pilots, while markets nose-dived.
So far, Boeing reports an $8 billion loss. After the second crash, the company rolled production back from 52 to 42 planes per month. Last week, Boeing suggested it may even end 737 Max production, which could cause "the financial equivalent of a prolonged government shutdown or a significant natural disaster."
Amidst reports of a possible production halt, the BBC reports that Boeing pressured workers to downplay new 737 MAX features that require extra training.
One Boeing engineer experienced production pressure firsthand.
When a new airplane feature is introduced, there are training and safety protocols that require time (and money) to enact. Adam Dickson, who worked at Boeing for almost three decades, suggests the company was more focused on its profit margins than anything approximating safety and training protocols. In a recent BBC interview, he states: "The culture was very cost centred, incredibly pressurised. Engineers were given targets to get certain amount of cost out of the aeroplane."
Boeing's recovery from its own culture of risky expedited production takes the spotlight from other culprits. It may seem premature, but more evidence reveals it was likely that Boeing malfeasance caused the crash deaths. Workers, aviation officials, pilots, and other actors in this unfolding drama reveal Boeing's culpability.
A missing light feature listed as optional in the 737 Max’s Angle of Attack alert system is the purported mechanical cause of the crashes. That is old news by now, so we are led to ask less "What happened?" than "Who's to blame?"
And most importantly in an industry that can scarcely afford such large-scale controversy, one wonders, "What’s next?" The 737 Max was used for an average of 8,600 weekly flights all over the world, so its grounding has caused immense fallout.
We know that families, pilots, and shareholders are suing Boeing for compensation in losses, and those lawsuits are underway. There are also federal investigations that threaten to transform how the airline industry is regulated.
Newly discovered 737 Max design flaws only add to speculation that this popular model may be a thing of the past. Meanwhile, airlines lose money, too.
Southwest Airlines has cancelled Newark service because it cannot fly the 737 Max, for example. Southwest has kept its 737-700 series planes operational longer due to the Max’s grounding. Reliance upon older plane models has its own risks which need to be considered in the overall impact of the 737 Max grounding.
On the consumer end, added flight anxiety exacerbates already tense travel. On the producers’ end, it is tense as well. For every direct Boeing job, there are three or four indirect ones.
Workers for Boeing and parts subsidiaries, like Spirit Aerosystems of Wichita, Kansas, have experienced downsizings. Reduced pay and hours began on June 21 and are expected to run for 10 weeks minimum.
That’s just one example. Of course, Seattle-area workers at or near Boeing’s Renton, Washington, headquarters would be seriously hard hit if 737 Max production is halted.
Pilots are also in the middle of this scandal, as a minimum of 400 pilots, many unionized, are suing Boeing for a cover-up of its alert system design flaws. Joseph Wheeler, who works for the law firm representing pilots in a class-action lawsuit, explains: "Many pilots worldwide have either been laid off, made to relocate bases, or at least suffered significant diminishment to flight opportunities and pay."
All that said, is it too early to speculate that the grounded or halted 737 Max is the equivalent of a grounded company?
Can aviation be cleaned up to favor safety over profits by scrapping the 737 Max? Or is this cleanup just a pie-in-the-sky consumer fantasy requiring a more grounded reality that considers flying anxieties and higher prices routine?
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