The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

November 12:
Another day written in blood

Nov 19, 2001

American Airlines flight 587 crashed into the Far Rockaway section of New York City November 12, killing all 260 people on board and five on the ground.

Within a few hours, according to the New York Times, a government official said, with relief, “...we do not have any evidence for the T-word,” – that is, terrorism.

No, it seems that this crash – and these deaths – were caused not by terrorism, but by the good old business way of doling out death.

After an ordinary plane crash, little information gets out in the early days when people are still thinking about the crash – protecting, of course, the aviation companies, whose designs are often faulty, and the airline companies, whose maintenance policies lead to the crashes.

This time, however, with that “T-word” lingering in the air, we got lots of information. And that information showed clearly the culpability of various and assorted companies and government agencies in this tragedy.

In the first place, the plane was not designed with real safety precautions in mind. It has two engines, not three – that is, no real back up in case of an engine failure, something which is more and more common these days. Of course, aviation “experts” tell us that planes like these can fly on one engine. And it’s true they can – when they’re 35,000 feet up in the air. The problem is on take-offs and landings – the very time when the plane is under most stress and when accidents are most likely to occur.

Beyond that, the plane’s engines – the famous engines that broke off – were already known to have been seriously defective. The Wall Street Journal reported last January that the industry feared that this particular model engine could disintegrate. The same engine on another American A300 plane caught fire in 1998 shortly after take off. Three times in the last year, engines on Continental’s A300 planes disintegrated shortly before actually lifting off.

One month ago, the FAA had issued an “advisory” suggesting that airlines take these planes out of service for a major overhaul of all engines.

Instead, American had taken the plane used for Flight 587 out of service and had given a major overhaul to only one engine. The other one was left alone, even though it was only 212 flight hours short of the 10,000 flight hour limit which requires a major overhaul. Then, on the day just before the accident, the plane had been out of service again – but only for “minor” servicing. What was serviced the day before the crash? – the engine that disintegrated just before it fell off.

Then, of course, there was the famous tail fin – which simply broke off in flight. Whatever is behind this structural “fault,” the fact is that planes cannot fly without tail fins.

All capitalist companies have as their major concern the maximization of profit, pushing costs as low as possible to do so. Every worker knows about the corners which are cut on their job, leading to potentially dangerous situations.

Following September 11, American Airlines laid off many hundreds of mechanics, as well as all kinds of workers in different supporting jobs like the repair of equipment. The airlines continue to cut back in all kinds of little ways to save money, and this inevitably extends to matters of safety and the extra inspections that cost more but can save lives.

Bosses everywhere gamble that accidents won’t happen this year – and let next year take care of itself.

But “accidents” do happen, just as one happened in Far Rockaway, November 12, because someone cut the safety corner too tight. And, as usual, it was not the top management of American or Airbus who suffered the consequences of the gamble they took. Nor was it officials in the FAA, whose lackadaisical attitudes about safety allow airlines to run planes that are overdue for service.

It was the flight crews, the passengers and the people on the ground who paid the price with their lives.

Bush talks a lot about the “evils of terrorism.” Let’s just for once hear about the evils of a capitalist system which, in systematically putting profits before safety, takes many more lives every year than the terrorists took.