Boeing, transportation sector face dangerous manufacturing ‘double burden’
Monday, January 13, 2020
The verdict is in on recently dismissed Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s culpability in the mishandling that led to deadly 737 Max jet crashes in October 2018 and March 2019, which were blamed on faulty equipment and poor pilot training. The shot down Ukranian Boeing jet crash in Iran and just-released emails combine with Muilenburg’s departure to keep Boeing in the headlines.
A basic understanding of how competition shapes transportation sector culture can shift the focus from blaming one bad apple to the whole barrel of production pressures forming today’s dangerous economic climate.
Global capitalism requires time to dominate geographical space in a race to get goods and services to further away markets. Aviation/defense companies share a double burden of this speed mandate with other transportation (and communications) companies.
They facilitate voluntary commodity exchange and/or inevitable forced market sharing via military intervention when locales remain non-compliant with dominant nations’ economic interests. Recall that Boeing manufactures both defense and non-defense aviation machinery.
Muilenburg testified before Congress last October, and his departure sees him walking away with anywhere between $62 million and $80 million in compensation. This is controversial, considering Boeing crash victims presumably are, by comparison, receiving a meager $50 million from the company.
While shareholders may find some leadership relief in new CEO David Calhoun, who may receive a hefty compensation package worth $28 million in 2020, the assignment to clean up the company’s terrible public image remains daunting.
Emails reveal manufacturing and assembly problems in events leading up to the 737 Max crashes. These emails include: “...a concerted effort to keep pilot training on the new plane to a minimum, as well as efforts to mislead regulators and airline customers. One person even mentions pulling Jedi mind tricks on regulators in an attempt to manipulate them.”
“Jedi mind tricks” is a phrase taking off in sensationalistic media reports on these emails. There should be some consideration for the (albeit snarky to negligible) employee camaraderie that can hyperbolically function to relieve workplace tensions.
After all, unionized Boeing employees advocate and innovate stricter safety and regulations protocols when as company leadership fails them. That said, these emails reveal the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) deliberate neglect to enforce regulatory protocols in the aviation/defense industry.
In the freewheeling era of rapid-pace commodity exchange, anti-regulation federal government entities slash and burn inspection efforts, favoring market competition. The Boeing plane with the most problems, the 737 MAX, is a passenger jet. Yet the company operates in a sectorwide culture emblemizing the danger of unregulated transportation commodities markets.
Transportation is a key profit-generating sector requiring quick hardware turnover in a highly competitive global market. In “The Ways of the World,” City University of New York geographer David Harvey explains the pivotal role of today’s transportation commodity production.
Since competitive global markets mandate speedy commodity exchange — the faster you get quality goods to market, the faster you dominate it — the transportation sector is under even more pressure since it is the manufacturing source for the very mechanisms (planes, trains, trucks, ships) that facilitate all manner of commodity exchange.
These competition-facilitating transportation vehicles are themselves in their own fierce market competition, leading company shareholders to press manufacturers to churn (planes, trains, trucks, ships) commodities out onto the market quickly while keeping costs down via cheap raw materials (hello, imported steel) and cheap labor power (hello, low wages).
Complications arise as markets achieve seemingly healthy commodity exchange — or even saturation. Harvey explains transportation’s distribution and exchange paradox. When successful commodity distribution/exchange occurs, it is experienced as inertia or slowdown, Thus, manufacturers turn to speedy production again to compensate for this felt sense of exchange inertia in a vicious cycle, suggesting if a good job is done efficiently, it needs to be done even more efficiently.
This is the economics of voraciousness.
Company manufacturing and inspection cultures can either learn to risk smaller profit margins, recognizing inevitable exchange-side inertia for what it is, or they can end up like Boeing: prioritizing profits over customers’ lives.
This dynamic reveals the irrationality of global capitalism’s competitive design. Consider Brexit. Economic panic ensues when routine exchange circuits are threatened, suggesting mass inertia: “...the reduction of reserve stocks and inventories of all types reduces the quantity of capital necessarily kept idle within the overall turnover process,” per Harvey. Idle commodities equal idle surplus capital.
Harvey emphasizes transportation’s role: “It follows that there is a strong need to organize the transportation and communications system to guarantee regularity of delivery as well as speed and low cost.”
The transportation sector carries a double burden. For one, it facilitates necessitated speed with a low-cost mandate. The faster commodities get transported to market, the faster they get sold for profit.
But due to competition’s inherent impatience with circulation time, it never seems fast enough. Low cost expenditures, including wages, compensate for this perceived slowdown. Add to this general shared burden the fact that globally competitive transportation commodities, like passenger jets, are themselves subject to the same speedy manufacturing rules.
This is why the FAA’s has evolved into an invisible hand guaranteeing speedy aviation/ defense manufacturing instead of guaranteeing public safety as a regulatory governmental entity.
Boeing is uniquely tasked as a transportation and communications company guaranteeing global capitalism’s structurally inherent ethos of speed.
Boeing’s shot reputation also faces 50% third quarter net losses. New leadership faces a production slowdown if the FAA does its job. There’s speculation that downed flight PS752, a Ukranian Boeing jet leaving Tehran, was possibly a military accident. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has reportedly taken responsibility for the crash, stating the plane was mistaken for a cruise missile.
While Ukranian investigators receive the PS752 crash black box, Boeing stock’s own black box will reveal whether or not the company accepts the shaky path of inspection/training slowdowns — valuing customers’ very lives over its urgent bottom line.
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