Mar 18, 2019
On March 10, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed after takeoff and killed 157 people. The pilot couldn’t make it climb properly. Five months earlier, in October, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed after takeoff in Indonesia and killed 189 people. The pilot couldn’t make it climb properly. These planes were both the new models of the Boeing 737 Max-8.
Boeing developed the Max-8 in a hurry, to compete for sales against the Airbus A320. According to CBS News, “When it launched in 2016, the 737 Max was U.S. jet-maker Boeing’s best weapon in the war for market share with European rival Airbus.” The company put bigger engines on its old reliable Boeing 737, a model that had been around for 50 years. The new engines saved money on fuel, so planes could fly farther and cheaper. But its low to the ground design in 1968 “proved to be a constraint that engineers modernizing the 737 have had to work around.” Rather than re-designing the whole aircraft, Boeing repositioned the bigger engines toward the front of the plane in order to maintain ground clearance. The bigger and heavier engines changed the plane’s balance: it would not fly the same – there was a tendency to tip the nose up. And that’s why Boeing added the automated control software, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmention system (MCAS) to counteract this tendency.
And then Boeing changed the things that pilots would have to do, in case there was a problem. But they didn’t tell the pilots. One of Boeing’s sales pitches for the Max was that companies would not have the expense of retraining pilots.
And so, 346 people have died.
Yes, there was and is a problem with the engines. Yes, there was and is a problem with the software. Yes, there was and is a problem with insufficient pilot training. But the root cause of the crashes, when it comes down to it, is capitalism’s drive for profits. It is because of the fight between monopolies as to which company, Boeing, or Airbus, will control the lion’s share of the market for hundreds of billions of dollars worth of contracts.
Maybe, for the time being, these flying death traps have been grounded. But Boeing is still producing these planes and is still only talking about changing the software!
It will take a major overhaul, not just of the structure of the 737 Max, but of the very system that puts obscene profit margins before human life.