USA: Boeing’s Will Give Way to Safety Reforms if Flyers Organize – By Ralph Nader

USA: Boeing’s Will Give Way to Safety Reforms if Flyers Organize

  By Ralph Nader | April 4, 2019 – Aletho News

To understand the enormity of the Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes (Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian Airlines 302) that took a combined total of 346 lives, it is useful to look at past events and anticipate future possible problems.

In 2011, Boeing executives wanted to start a “clean sheet” new narrow body air passenger plane to replace its old 737 design from the nineteen sixties. Shortly thereafter, Boeing’s bosses panicked when American Airlines put in a large order for the competitive Airbus A320neo.  Boeing shelved the new design and rushed to put out the 737 Max that, in Business Week’s words, was “pushing an ageing design past its limits.” The company raised the 737 Max landing gear and attached larger, slightly more fuel efficient engines angled higher and more forward on the wings. Such a configuration changed the aerodynamics and made the plane more prone to stall (see attached article: https://www.aviationcv.com/aviation-blog/2019/boeing-canceling-737-max).       

This put Boeing’s management in a quandary. Their sales pitch to the airlines was that the 737 Max only received an “amended” certification from the FAA. That it did not have to be included in more pilot training, simulators, and detailed in the flight manuals. The airlines could save money and would be more likely to buy the Boeing 737 Max.

Boeing engineers were worried. They knew better. But the managers ordered software to address the stall problem without even telling the pilots or most of the airlines. Using only one operating sensor (Airbus A320neo has three sensors), an optional warning light and indicator, Boeing set the stage for misfiring sensors that overcame pilot efforts to control the planes from their nose-down death dive.

These fixes or patches would not have been used were the new 737’s aerodynamics the same as the previous 737 models. Step by step, Boeing’s criminal negligence, driven by a race to make profits, worsened. Before and after the fatal crashes, Boeing did not reveal, did not warn, did not train, and did not address the basic defective aerodynamic design. It gagged everyone that it could.  Boeing still insists that the 737 Max is safe and is building two a day, while pushing to end the grounding.

Reacting to all these documented derelictions, a flurry of investigations is underway. The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, Calvin L. Scovel III, is investigating the hapless, captive FAA that has delegated to Boeing important FAA statutory and regulatory duties. The Justice Department and FBI have opened a criminal probe, with an active grand jury. The National Transportation Safety Board, long the hair shirt of the FAA, is investigating. As are two Senate and House Committees. Foreign governments are investigating, as surely are the giant insurance companies who are on the hook. This all sounds encouraging, but we’ve seen such initiatives pull back before.

This time, however, the outrageous corner-cutting and suppression of engineering dissent, within both Boeing and the FAA (there were reported “heated discussions”) produced a worst case scenario. So, Boeing is working overtime with its legions of Washington lobbyists, its New York P.R. firm, its continued campaign contributions to some 330 Members of Congress. The airlines and pilots’ union chiefs (but not some angry pilots) are staying mum, scared into silence due to contracts and jobs, waiting for the Boeing 737 Max planes to fly again.

BUT THE BOEING 737 MAX MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO FLY AGAIN. Pushing new software that will allow Boeing to blame the pilots is a dangerous maneuver. Saying that U.S. pilots, many of whom are ex-Air Force, are more experienced in reacting to a sudden wildly gyrating aircraft (consider the F-16 diving and swooping) than many foreign airline pilots only trained by civil aviation, opens a can of worms from cancellation of 737 Max orders  to indignation from foreign airlines and pilots. It also displays an aversion to human-factors engineering with a vast number of avoidable failure modes not properly envisioned by Boeing’s software patches.

The overriding problem is the basic unstable design of the 737 Max. An aircraft has to be stall proof not stall prone. An aircraft manufacturer like Boeing, notwithstanding its past safety record, is not entitled to more aircraft disasters that are preventable by following long-established aeronautical engineering practices and standards.

With 5,000 Max orders at stake, the unfolding criminal investigation may move the case from criminal negligence to evidence of knowing and willful behavior amounting to corporate homicide involving Boeing officials. Boeing better cut its losses by going back to the drawing boards. That would mean scrapping the 737 Max 8 designs, with its risk of more software time bombs, safely upgrading the existing 737-800 with amenities and discounts for its airline carrier customers and moving ahead with its early decision to design a new plane to compete with Airbus’s model, which does not have the 737 Max’s design problem.

Meanwhile, airline passengers should pay attention to Senator Richard Blumenthal’s interest in forthcoming legislation to bring the regulatory power back into the FAA. Senator Blumenthal also intends to reintroduce his legislation to criminalize business concealment of imminent risks that their products and services pose to innocent consumers and workers (the “Hide No Harm Act”).

What of the near future? Airline passengers should organize a consumer boycott of the Boeing 737 Max 8 to avoid having to fly on these planes in the coming decade. Once Boeing realizes that this brand has a deep marketing stigma, it may move more quickly to the drawing boards, so as to not alienate airline carriers.

  1. Much more information will come out in the coming months. Much more. The NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which receives incident reports from pilots, air traffic controllers, dispatchers, cabin crew, maintenance technicians, and others, is buzzing, as is the FlyersRights.org website. Other countries, such as France, have tougher criminal statutes for such corporate crime than the U.S. does. The increasing emergence of whistle-blowers from Boeing, the FAA and, other institutions is inevitable.

Not to mention, the information that will come out of the civil litigation against this killer mass tort disaster. And of course the relentless reporting of newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and AP, among others will continue to shed light on Boeings misdeeds and the FAA’s deficiencies.

Boeing executives should reject the advice from the reassuring, monetized minds of Wall Street stock analysts saying you can easily absorb the $2 billion cost and move on. Boeing, let your engineers and scientists be free to exert their “professional options for revisions” to save your company from the ruinous road you are presently upon.

Respect those who perished at your hand and their grieving families.

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  • guyaneseonline  On April 22, 2019 at 5:16 am

    Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
    By Russell Mokhiber | CounterPunch | April 19, 2019

    Type the word “manslaughter” into any news search engine and up will come a series of stories of ordinary Americans charged with killing others through criminal negligence or recklessness.

    One such case that came up this month involved a Pennsylvania man who plead guilty to manslaughter. The man was accused of texting while driving and as a result killed a 12-year old girl walking on the side of the road. The driver obviously didn’t intend to kill the 12-year old girl. But due to his recklessness, he did. And he will now spend time in jail.

    If manslaughter charges can be brought against ordinary American citizens, why not against powerful American corporations and their executives?

    Two Boeing 737 Max 8 jets have crashed within five months leaving 346 dead. Early evidence of Boeing’s wrongdoing in the design of the 737 Max 8 and the company’s failure to train pilots to handle its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) warrants a criminal manslaughter prosecution of both the company and the responsible executives.

    Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has admitted that “it’s apparent that in both flights, the MCAS activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information.”

    And Boeing kept pilots in the dark about potential failure modes that could result in a taxing mental and physical struggle in the cockpit with just seconds to execute correct decisions and maneuvers.

    Pilots complained saying that it is “unconscionable” that Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines had pilots flying without adequate training or sufficient documentation about the MCAS system, that the flight manual “is inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”

    Denis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesperson for the pilots’ union, the Allied Pilots Association, said that the MCAS “was designed in a hideous manner.”

    “MCAS was a monster,” Tajer told the Seattle Times last week after a meeting with the Federal Aviation Administration. (FAA).

    Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told the Seattle Times that the airline and the pilots “were kept in the dark” about the MCAS.

    “We do not like the fact that a new system was put on the aircraft and wasn’t disclosed to anyone or put in the manuals,” Weaks said.

    “Boeing will, and should, continue to face scrutiny of the ill-designed MCAS and initial nondisclosure of the new flight control logic,” Weaks wrote last week.

    Federal authorities are just in the beginning stages of their criminal investigations. If past corporate criminal investigations are any indication, internal email and memos from conscientious Boeing engineers and executives are sure to emerge further implicating the company and its executives.

    But evidence is not enough to successfully bring corporate manslaughter prosecutions. That’s because there is a political economy of corporate criminal prosecutions that favors the powerful. And that’s one reason why we see so many manslaughter prosecutions against ordinary Americans, and so few against powerful corporations and executives.

    Boeing is one of the most powerful corporations in the United States. In Washington, Boeing flexes its political muscle with a couple of dozen in-house lobbyists and another twenty or so outside lobbying firms. Boeing spends $15 million a year on lobbying and donated about $4.5 million to congressional candidates and other political committees in the 2018 midterms alone.

    Boeing also exerts influence in media circles. Let’s take the case of Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, perhaps the most influential Sunday talk show.

    There has not been one mention on Meet the Press of the Lion Air’s Boeing 737 Max 8 crash off the coast of Indonesia that killed all 189 passengers and crew on board since that crash on October 29, 2018 — not one mention in the 26 episodes of Meet the Press since that crash.

    There has not been one mention on Meet the Press of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crash near Addis Ababa killing all 157 passengers and crew on board in the six Meet the Press shows since that March 10, 2019 crash.

    The only mention of Boeing during any of those shows is an announcer saying that Boeing is a sponsor of Meet the Press.

    (And it’s not as if Meet the Press doesn’t cover disasters. They do. On the March 17, 2019 episode of Meet the Press, the March 15 Christchurch, New Zealand massacre, which killed 50, was a major topic of conversation throughout the show.)

    Manslaughter prosecutions in the United States against corporations are rare, and when they happen, they are mostly against small businesses.

    Major corporations have been charged with manslaughter for the deaths of workers and consumers. But because of technical legal issues and the power imbalance in the legal system (with corporate defense lawyers often overwhelming state or federal prosecutors) even when cases are brought, these major corporations and their executives usually get off without a conviction. (That’s one reason why there are now calls for Congress to pass a federal corporate homicide law.)

    There are exceptions. In 2013, BP was forced to plead guilty to manslaughter in connection with the deaths of 11 workers who died in the 2010 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Like BP, the Boeing case is an exceptional case.

    But industry aligned spokespeople are warning against a rush to criminal prosecution against Boeing. (USA Today recently ran an op-ed titled — Don’t rush into criminal case and don’t make safety a political football.)

    There is no need to rush to judgment against Boeing.

    Prosecutors should take their time in prosecuting Boeing and responsible Boeing executives for manslaughter. Civil and criminal fines, tort claim settlements, deterrence and rehabilitation are not enough.

    Criminal prosecution is society’s strongest signal against anti-social behavior. It says — we believe what you have done is morally wrong and as a result, 346 innocents are dead. Justice must be done.

    Prosecute Boeing and the responsible executives for manslaughter. Then let a jury decide on guilt or innocence. It’s the American way.

    Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter.

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