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Boeing: It’s even worse than we think.

Wikipedia photo

I have long been fascinated by aviation. Though I never got a pilot’s license (I chickened out), I have about 45 hours of flying time as a student pilot. On my trip to Scotland last fall, I was eager for the opportunity to fly from New York to Edinburgh and back on Boeing’s newest plane — the Boeing 737 Max. A few weeks later, one of these planes crashed in Indonesia. Last week, another one crashed. Now I have a retroactive case of the heebie-jeebies.

At the time, I felt quite safe on the plane. It’s a beautiful, reasonably comfortable plane, though maybe a bit small for trans-Atlantic flying, for which wide-body planes are the way to go. But now I will refuse to ever fly again in a Boeing 737 Max, because I doubt that Boeing will ever find a way to make the plane truly safe.

Only the nerdier articles have been explicit about what the problem really is. All of the reporting on the two crashes tells us about the onboard software that is thought to be the cause of the crashes. But that leaves the impression that, when the software is revised and updated, the plane will be safe. But I’m not sure that that’s the case, because the true flaw in the Boeing 737 Max is that the plane is inherently unstable because the new engines, which are bigger and heavier, don’t fit the old 737 airframe. The plane is inherently inclined to go nose up and stall, especially when making sharp turns at low speed (which you’ve got to do — at low altitude — getting in and out of airports). There is no way to fix that other than starting from scratch and engineering a whole new plane.

The best article I’ve seen on this problem is at Slate: Where Did Boeing Go Wrong?: How a bad business decision may have made the 737 max vulnerable to crashes.

The New York Times also did a nerdy piece: After a Lion Air 737 Max Crashed in October, Questions About the Plane Arose.

There are two serious problems here. The first serious problem is that Boeing, in trying to save money, used an engineering kludge to keep its 737 model in the air when it should have started from scratch with a new design, as its European competitor Airbus did. The second serious problem is that, in the United States, Boeing more or less regulates itself. This is because the Bush administration, in 2005, changed the rules to serve the industry rather than the public. Republicans actually believe in things like that. James E. Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, writes about this in today’s New York Times: The 737 Max Is Grounded, No Thanks to the F.A.A.: Federal aviation regulators have allowed the airline industry to have too much power.

This is yet another reason why it is essential that we throw the Republican Party out of Washington, for good. Whether it’s education, energy, communications technology, pharmaceuticals, or the environment, Republican notions about deregulation are handing the powers of government over to the greedy few, the public interest be damned.

On top of its engineering kludge, Boeing (as well as the so-called regulators) screwed up again by deciding that pilots didn’t even need to know about the instability, the kludge, and the new software system that is supposed to compensate for the kludge. Engineers and pilots would never go along with anything that appallingly stupid. But the money people would.

Hereafter, when I fly, I won’t buy tickets without being reasonably confident that the plane is either an Airbus (because Europeans still believe in regulation in the public interest), or an older American plane such as the Boeing 747, which was designed back in the days when government did its job and engineers were allowed to do theirs.

Let’s also hope that this fiasco costs Boeing billions of dollars and ends the careers of some executives. Maybe then they’ll remember that cutting corners in something as potentially dangerous as an airliner does not save money in the long run. If I were an airline that bought these planes, I’d sue Boeing’s socks off.

In the long run, good regulation saves lives and property. What Republicans refuse to learn: In the long run, good regulation probably saves money as well.


  1. Jo wrote:

    Very good post. It constantly amazes me what unfettered grief can do to harm so many. After reading more about this, it seems some pilots reported having to manually over-ride the computer system. This most likely prevented another crash beyond these two. Putting the flying public AND pilots at risk, all in the name of greed, is disgraceful.

    Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  2. Jo wrote:

    Note to self: Never send a comment to a newspaperman without proof-reading it. My prior comment should read, “Unfettered greed – not grief.” That greed has certainly caused a lot of grief though.

    Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 4:40 pm | Permalink
  3. daltoni wrote:

    No worries, Jo. I do typos like that all the time.

    Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  4. p wrote:

    Isn’t that exactly what Obama did with the healthcare industry?

    Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  5. daltoni wrote:

    This is the first time “P” has commented here, and I’m not quite sure what the comment means. On first reading, it sounds like right-wing trolling. On the other hand, it could mean that good regulation by Obama saved money in the health care industry.

    Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  6. frigast wrote:

    Hello ‘P’,
    Maybe a comparison to your existing prez would have been more apt??
    – not to speak about more obvious 🙂
    Do you have a reason to forgetting the obvious ??

    Friday, March 15, 2019 at 4:04 am | Permalink

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