|The News Line: Editorial
Tuesday, 26 March 2019
Boeing shares crash – company stands accused of cost-cutting that risked air safety
THE US aircraft manufacturer Boeing has been brought to its knees following two catastrophic crashes of its bestselling aircraft, the short haul 737 Max 8, which cost the lives of 346 people.
Last October a Lion Air flight in Indonesia crashed with the loss of 189 lives when pilots failed to regain control after Boeing’s newly installed ‘stall prevention’ system took control away from them and pushed the nose of the plane down, flying it into the ground. Boeing’s response to this crash was to promise a computer patch, while insisting that reports, from US pilots’ unions and in the Wall Street Journal, that the company had withheld this danger from pilots and operators were ‘simply untrue’.
They insisted the fix would be largely aimed at training and software changes with ‘manageable costs’. The reference to ‘manageable costs’ is no accident. It is the drive to cut costs at the expense of human lives that lies behind this and the subsequent tragedy – when the same aircraft with the same system crashed in near identical circumstances in Ethiopia on March 11 killing all 157 passengers and crew.
Two fatal crashes within five months couldn’t be shrugged off as pilot error or a simple glitch in the computer system to be corrected with a patch. Following countries across the world grounding the aircraft, Boeing was finally forced to suspend the operation of its entire global fleet of the 737 Max 8 after the US Federal Aviation Administration imposed a temporary ban on the plane.
The effect on Boeing, the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, has been devastating with several big customers threatening to cancel orders – causing its share price to plummet and wiping $25 billion off its value. Boeing will face a mountain of legal action for compensation from airline companies and passengers – putting its survival on the line as pressure builds up for the company to be held criminally liable for negligence.
The one area that Boeing most certainly was not negligent in was cost-cutting. It rushed through changes to the ageing 737 in order to maintain its grip on the market. Instead of building a new more powerful plane, they modified the existing model putting in bigger engines and increasing the number of seats, as demanded by the airlines, modifications that affected the aerodynamics of the plane.
It was to overcome this that Boeing introduced the new software which is now being held responsible for the crashes. It is also alleged that, in order to keep costs down even further, the company took the decision not to provide expensive retraining for pilots on how to use and, if necessary, disable this software.
The question being asked now is: How did these modifications pass the safety tests the FAA is supposed to enforce to certify the plane? It appears that the FAA has, with the support of the US Congress, allowed Boeing to control the aircraft certification process itself.
The Washington Post described this abandonment of regulation by the FAA: ‘In practice, one Boeing engineer would conduct a test of a particular system on the Max 8, while another Boeing engineer would act as the FAA’s representative, signing on behalf of the US government that the technology complied with federal safety regulations.’
In other words, Boeing was self-certificating its own aircraft safety with the blessing of the US government. The decisions by Boeing to increase the engine size of these planes rather than design and build a new one, and the decision to make the plane attractive to airlines by not making them spend expensive hours retraining pilots were all made to maximise profits at all costs – even at the cost of hundreds of lives.
Human lives count for nothing when compared to the profits of the capitalist class.
Under capitalism advances in science and computer technology are being used not to increase safety and enhance human life but solely as a means to increase the profits of companies like Boeing.
The only way to ensure the safest possible future is to put an end to capitalism and advance to a socialist society that places human life above all else.
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