Sunday, May 22, 2022
27.7 C
Cairns
  • 07 4051 6499
  • sales@eachamtimes.com.au
Atherton
overcast clouds
12.3 ° C
13 °
11.4 °
78 %
0.5kmh
93 %
Sun
16 °
Mon
15 °
Tue
15 °
Wed
16 °
Thu
15 °
Cairns
scattered clouds
27.7 ° C
28.4 °
27 °
72 %
4.6kmh
40 %
Sun
27 °
Mon
27 °
Tue
27 °
Wed
27 °
Thu
27 °
22 May, 2222
  • Eacham Times
  • News
More

    Pilot error? No, Boeing’s tailspin is fuelled by corporate greed and influence peddling

    Qantas replaces entire fleet of Boeing 737s with Airbus. Photo from Facebook

    With investigators still sifting through the wreckage of a tragic Boeing 737 crash in China, an acclaimed Netflix documentary shows the aircraft’s manufacturer should be scrutinised as closely as its operator and flight crew. Marcus Reubenstein examines the deteriorating safety culture at the aviation behemoth.

    On March 21, a China Eastern Boeing 737-800 crashed in a densely forested area in Guangxi province in China’s south. The 132 passengers and crew are all presumed dead. As with any air disaster, at this early stage, theories on why and how it crashed can only be speculation.

    The 737-800 went out of production in December 2019. Ironically the final two were delivered to China Eastern on January 5, 2020.

    That variant of Boeing’s single aisle short haul workhorse was part of the NG series (Next Generation) of which 6900 were delivered to commercial airliners. According to aviation website Simple Flying, around 5300 737-NGs are still flying.  

    The China Eastern aircraft which crashed in Guangxi was not old. It had been operating for six years and eight months, the average age of the Qantas fleet is double that at 12 years and seven months.

    After this crash, the nation’s air safety regulators grounded all 737-800s in China. 

    The last 737 disasters

    On October 29, 2018, Indonesian carrier Lion Air Flight 610 crashed 13 minutes after take-off on a domestic route from Jakarta. With 189 people on board, it was the deadliest accident involving all variants of the Boeing 737.

    Five months later, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa, all 157 on board died.

    The last 737 disasters

    On October 29, 2018, Indonesian carrier Lion Air Flight 610 crashed 13 minutes after take-off on a domestic route from Jakarta. With 189 people on board, it was the deadliest accident involving all variants of the Boeing 737.

    Five months later, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa, all 157 on board died.

    It was a safety critical component of the 737 MAX, with no built-in redundancies; and one which pilots and airlines had not been told about—the only place MCAS was mentioned in the Boeing flight manual was in the appendix of abbreviations.

    Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, pilot of the 2009  “Miracle on the Hudson” US Airways flight, told a congressional hearing, “We shouldn’t be blaming [Lion and Ethiopian Air] pilots and shouldn’t be expecting them to compensate for flawed design.”

    In the event of an MCAS failure, pilots had just 10 seconds to react by switching off the system to manually fly the aircraft. The Ethiopian Airlines pilots did exactly that and the aircraft still crashed.

    Six weeks after the disaster, Boeing president Dennis Muilenburg told CNN the blame for that crash lay with the pilots. Later that year he was sacked by the board of Boeing, walking away with a $US53 million payout.

    A sorry tailspin

    Released in February, the Netflix documentary Downfall, The case against Boeing, did not simply chronicle the events surrounding the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. The feature-length documentary delved into a corporate culture that revealed an ugly, and ultimately deadly, side of Boeing.

    One of the more chilling interviews was with Sullenberger. He said the malfunction which caused the deadline nosedives was “maniacal … [and] the pilots never understood it [the 737’s computer system] was trying to kill them.”

    The film revealed that Boeing had hired an army of lobbyists and public relations companies “backgrounding” journalists and politicians on Capitol Hill. Their message: the Ethiopian Airlines plane would never have crashed if the pilots were American.

    Four weeks after the Lion Air crash, Boeing sought a meeting at the headquarters of Allied Pilots Association, the union representing the US’s 15,000 airline pilots. Said then president, Captain Dan Carey, Boeing did not bring the engineers they expected, “They brought their lobbyists. Who brings lobbyists to a safety briefing?”     

    Management throws safety off the plane

    A number of former Boeing engineers, interviewed for the documentary, described what they called a disturbing shift from safety and quality to the stock price.

    In 1997 Boeing had merged with its major US rival McDonnell Douglas, whose boss Harry Stonecipher became the new Boeing CEO. One of his first big decisions was to shift the corporate headquarters from Seattle, Washington state, to Chicago, effectively keeping Boeing’s engineers away from its bosses. 

    Stonecipher also initiated a program called ShareValue Trust, which Boeing internal presentations indicated the new focus was on cutting costs and boosting profits. Employees were told, “Achieving productivity and growth targets plays a key role in establishing the basis for the Boeing stock price.”

    It began a steady outflow of production engineers, that continued throughout the period in which the crashed 737 MAX’s were produced. 

    A former Boeing production manager, Ed Pierson, who worked on the development of the 737 MAX, testified before a US congressional hearing in 2019 that he’d warned the company numerous times in writing about serious safety issues with the aircraft. Warnings he says were ignored.

    Former engineers interviewed for the documentary said the company cut the number of quality control inspectors across its production line from 15 per shift to just one.

    One engineer said a ladder was found in the fuselage of a 787 Dreamliner after it took its first test flight. It was next to the aircraft’s horizontal stabiliser and had it shifted midflight it would almost certainly have caused a crash.

    Political cash splash and revolving doors

    Boeing is also noted as being one of corporate America’s largest lobbyists, the biggest in the aviation and air transport industry. Last year it spent $US13.5 million on external lobbyists—$US25,000 for every member of the US Congress and Senate.

    That is in addition to Boeing’s sizeable internal government relations division; of its 10-member executive team eight are former staffers to politicians or previously had senior US presidential appointments.

    Political cash splash and revolving doors

    Boeing is also noted as being one of corporate America’s largest lobbyists, the biggest in the aviation and air transport industry. Last year it spent $US13.5 million on external lobbyists—$US25,000 for every member of the US Congress and Senate.

    That is in addition to Boeing’s sizeable internal government relations division; of its 10-member executive team eight are former staffers to politicians or previously had senior US presidential appointments.

    Political cash splash and revolving doors

    Boeing is also noted as being one of corporate America’s largest lobbyists, the biggest in the aviation and air transport industry. Last year it spent $US13.5 million on external lobbyists—$US25,000 for every member of the US Congress and Senate.

    That is in addition to Boeing’s sizeable internal government relations division; of its 10-member executive team eight are former staffers to politicians or previously had senior US presidential appointments.

    Rich pickings in Canberra

    Since January 2000, Boeing has picked up more than $16 billion in Australian government contracts. In addition, Qantas and Virgin have spent billions of dollars on Boeing aircraft. But, in a blow to the US manufacturer, in December Qantas announced it would replace its entire domestic fleet of Boeing 737 and 717 aircraft with Airbus planes.  

    The president of Boeing Australia is Dr Brendan Nelson, who began his working life as a general practitioner. He rose to become president of the Australian Medical Association, moved to politics and is a former defence minister in the Howard government. He has no background in aviation, however.

    One of his final major decisions as defence minister was to approve a $6.6 billion purchase of military aircraft. And who made those aircraft? Boeing. 

    LEAVE A REPLY

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    ADVERTISEMENTS