Profits first, safety last. Boeing’s greed killed 346 passengers

A rescue team lift a pair tires from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610, one of the deadly Boeing 737 Max airplanes.

Boeing’s rush to sell its 737 Max aircraft ignored design flaws and other safety concerns, according to a Sept. 16 report from Congress. Three hundred and forty-six people were killed in crashes of the plane in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was aided in a coverup by the heads of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Boeing — under pressure to compete with Airbus and deliver profits for Wall Street — escaped scrutiny from the FAA, withheld critical information from pilots and ultimately put planes into service that killed 346 innocent people,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairperson Peter DeFazio.What’s particularly infuriating is how Boeing and FAA both gambled with public safety in the critical time period between the two crashes.” 

Even after the Oct. 29, 2018, crash of Lion Air Flight 610, in which 189 people were killed, the FAA refused to ground the 737 Max. The tragedy occurred 13 minutes after the plane left Jakarta, Indonesia.

Only when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed on March 10, 2019, in which 157 people were killed six minutes after leaving Addis Ababa, did the FAA take action.

Capitalist competition led to corporate murder. Boeing’s archrival Airbus had announced plans in 2010 to bring out a new plane — the 320 Neo — that would be more fuel efficient. Airlines’ profits are tied to fuel prices.

Boeing executives were confronted with the prospect of American Airlines placing a big order with Airbus. So they cancelled plans to build a brand-new aircraft that would have taken a decade to accomplish. 

Boeing instead launched a frenzied program in 2011 to bring out an updated version of its 737 model that first flew in 1967. Bigger, less fuel hungry engines would be attached to its wings. 

The problem is that the larger engines would have scraped the ground if they were put below the wings. Boeing’s solution was to place the jet engines higher and more forward on the aircraft.

This remedy changed the aerodynamics of the plane, making it liable to stall in flight and then crash. Boeing created a defective software program called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System that was supposed to address this danger.

Concealing risk

Boeing hid the existence of this MCAS software that could override a pilot’s decision. It wasn’t even mentioned in the pilots’ manual.

Doing so would have forced pilots to undergo training, an expensive undertaking for airlines that might have ordered from Airbus instead. 

That’s criminal and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg should have been jailed. Instead he took home $23.4 million in 2018, although he was fired the following year because of public outrage.

The FAA is now trying to rush the grounded 737 Max aircraft back into service. In a Trump-like stunt, FAA administrator Steve Dickson is scheduled to fly the plane over Seattle on Sept. 30. 

That’s reminiscent of the late New York Gov. Hugh Carey offering to drink a glass of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) in 1981 to “prove” the toxic chemical used in fracking wasn’t really dangerous to human health.    

Such theatrics won’t impress pilots and whistleblowers. Former Southwest Airlines pilot Gary Woolman said, “The caution and warning system in the 737 is as archaic as the airframe design. I flew jets made far earlier than the first 737 with a better system.” 

Boeing whistleblower Curtis Ewbank stated that the FAA’s proposed Band-Aid type fixes don’t tackle the problems that led to the two crashes. Even the FAA’s own engineers don’t believe the agency’s proposed changes to the aircraft are sufficient.

A crisis for U.S. imperialism

Over 400 of the grounded 737 Max airplanes are being stored around Seattle. So much space is needed that some of Boeing’s parking lots are crammed with the aircraft. 

That $40 billion plus of dead inventory isn’t just a financial crisis for Boeing. It’s also big trouble for U.S. imperialism and its military-industrial complex.

That’s because Boeing is the biggest U.S. exporter. Its long dominance of world airliner production was based on decades of lush war-profiteering contracts with the Pentagon.

It was Boeing that built the B-29s that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, incinerating hundreds of thousands of people, including at least 30,000 enslaved Korean workers.

Boeing’s B-52s dropped huge quantities of bombs on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, each of which destroyed a football field-sized plot of land. Thousands of Laotian people had to live in caves to survive.  

As the backbone of Gen. Curtis LeMay’s Strategic Air Command, nuclear armed B-52s threatened the world. Only the development by the Soviet Union of a nuclear deterrent, at great cost, saved humanity from World War III.

The first commercial jet plane wasn’t built in the U.S. The British-made de Havilland Comet made its first scheduled flight in 1952. Starting in 1958, France’s Sud Aviation sold 282 of the Caravelle jetliners to companies including United Airlines. 

It was Boeing bringing out its 707 jetliner that was a game changer. Its development costs were largely paid with tax dollars since it’s basically the Air Force KC-135 tanker with seats.

European big business responded to the virtual U.S. monopoly on passenger aircraft by setting up Airbus in 1970. By 2005, it was selling more planes than Boeing.

Boeing is a union-busting outfit that has forced International Association of Machinist members out on strike six times between 1948 and 2008. These struggles included a 140-day strike in 1948 and a 57-day strike in 2008. 

Management has also set up a nonunion plant in Charleston, S.C., and fought off a union organizing drive there.    

The 737 Max disaster endangers the jobs of 150,000 Boeing workers. The people need to take over Boeing to put safety first instead of profits.