Nov 11, 2019
“Why is this airplane still flying?” asked a safety engineer at a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) meeting, after the second crash of a Boeing 737 Max on March 10 of this year and before the FAA grounded them all.
Another question should follow the engineer’s question. Why was this airplane allowed in the air in the first place?
Since the two crashes that killed 346 people, much background information has been uncovered. For instance, the new head of the FAA’s safety division is Ali Bahrami, who used to be a lobbyist for Boeing’s trade group.
With Boeing in the lead, the aircraft industry’s biggest players have increasingly had their way with the FAA. Even under old procedures that governed the certification of the 737 Max, FAA powers were outsourced to Boeing departments. FAA staff were reduced, and Boeing people were paid to handle many of the safety inspection and certification tasks. Boeing managers overruled test pilot and engineers’ objections, brushing them under the rug to prevent delays to production schedules.
And that was under old rules. In October 2018, Congress passed a new FAA Reauthorization Act. The vote was led by Democratic senators from Washington and Oregon, and a Republican from Pennsylvania. Bipartisan.
The new law prevents FAA staff from interfering in aircraft design and production unless they can prove there is a problem. Proof like that usually involves a crash first, as staff memos have stated.
Even worse, the law sets up an “advisory committee” of aircraft industry executives to actually oversee the FAA and set guidelines that the FAA will have to follow. The committee will reportedly have 17 industry members and 2 union representatives.
The two crashes of the 737 Max came right after the bill passed, and brought some unwelcome attention to it.
But the lesson is quite clear. The government is set up in such a way that corporate interests always get priority. The warnings of workers and specialists are sidetracked and brushed aside.
In fact, it is nothing but a mirror of how industry operates in all its workplaces. Profits come first, and the concerns and warnings of workers are not allowed to interfere!