The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewMike Whitney Archive
The Blame Game? Who's Responsible for the Boeing 737 Crash in Ethiopia?
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

After the second Boeing commercial airliner crashed in Ethiopia killing everyone on board, the FAA should have grounded the rest of the Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet in the interest of passenger safety. That would have helped to shore up public confidence in the FAA while giving Boeing the time it needed to locate and fix the problem. Instead, the FAA chose shrug off the growing public outcry and insisted that everything was okay. They said there was no evidence of “systemic performance issues” and therefore “no basis to order grounding the aircraft.” In retrospect, that was a big mistake. It made the agency look like a patsy for the aircraft industry.

The FAA’s second big mistake was concocting a phony story to conceal why they decided to reverse their original policy. The FAA said they were grounding all Max 8s because of “new evidence collected at the site”. But this is clearly not the case and smacks of a coverup. The reason the FAA grounded the MAX 8s was because more than 40 other countries around the world had already banned the model from their airspace, leaving the United States as the lone holdout defending the interests of giant corporations over the safety of its passengers. Naturally, the FAA’s conduct in this matter has caused tremendous reputational damage. As the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, James Hall, said in an op-ed in the New York Times last week, the FAA’s performance has caused a “profound crisis of public confidence”… “The F.A.A. used to lead the world in air safety; today it is bringing up the rear,” he added.

That aircraft safety has taken a backseat to corporate profits during the Trump era, should surprise no one. President Trump has made no effort to conceal his contempt for regulations or “do-goodie” consumer advocates. This is why his economics team is loaded with former Wall Street executives and crackpot “trickle downers” rather than respected economists with years of government experience. As for the FAA, that post has been temporarily filled by Daniel K. Elwell whose background should have precluded him from getting anywhere near the agency. Check out this short blurb on Elwell from an article in the Washington Examiner:

“…For more than 15 years, Elwell has worked as an industry lobbyist. While working as managing director for government affairs at American Airlines, he lobbied Congress on everything from spending on the Iraq War to the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. Eventually, he landed a job as a senior vice president with Airlines for America which just so happens to be the largest trade group representing almost all of the nation’s major airlines….

Why does any of this matter so long as planes take off and land safely? Well for starters, it means that an aviation lobbyist…is now regulating the aviation industry.” (“The Swamp earns its Wings”, Washington Examiner)

And here’s more background from an article by Dana Milbank at the Washington Post:

“That corporations make safety decisions for Trump isn’t surprising. The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration is formerly of American Airlines and of the Aerospace Industries Association, of which Boeing is a prominent member. Trump is expected to nominate a former Delta Air Lines executive for the top FAA job. His acting defense secretary is a former Boeing executive….

In Trump’s broader corporatocracy, a former oil-industry lobbyist acts as interior secretary, a former pharmaceutical executive is health and human services secretary, and a former coal lobbyist runs the Environmental Protection Agency. Fully 350 former lobbyists work, have worked or have been tapped to work in the administration.” (“This is what happens when corporations run the government”, Washington Post)

When lobbyists run the regulatory agencies, everyone is at greater risk. But does that mean that something could have been done to save the lives of the more than 300 passengers who died in the recent airline crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia?

Probably, after all, at least five pilots had voiced their concerns about the planes performance on a confidential FAA hotline that was used for troubleshooting mechanical or other problems. These concerns were expressed even before the first crash in Indonesia which means that the FAA was aware of the problems with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. The MCAS is the stalling-avoidance system that detects when the MAX 8s are nosing up. Sensors compute when this dangerous condition is occurring and automatically push the nose down which can send the aircraft hurtling towards earth. Both airline crashes appear to be linked to this faulty software system which should have prompted the FAA to ground the fleet even earlier.

On Friday, the international president of the Transport Workers Union of America, John Samuelsen, was interviewed on CNBC’s Squawk Box where he gave a damning indictment of the FAA’s role in the recent crashes. Here’s what he said:

John Samuelsen– ” Boeing was allowed by the FAA to put a plane into service without even telling the pilots there was a MCAS system in place that could override their skill and nosedive a plane and cause a catastrophe.

CNBC host–You mean when the plane was originally put into service?

John Samuelsen,– Absolutely. So how does the FAA allow a company like Boeing to put a plane into service that has an override device that could nosedive a plane and cause mass loss of life which is exactly what happened.

CNBC host– And you think the FAA is in cahoots with Boeing?

John Samuelsen,– I think the FAA has an unhealthy, incestuous relationship with both the manufacturers and the airline industry, and I think there are examples of that that go beyond these two accidents. … When you get on a plane you probably don’t even realize that plane was probably overhauled or maintained in South America or China rather than on US soil by mechanics making a good blue collar wage. So in the lust for profits, the airline industry is driving all this work overseas. It’s very dangerous for us and eventually its going to end up in a catastrophic event.

CNBC host — So you believe that the safety work that is being done on these aircrafts outside the US is actually not safe?

John Samuelsen –I believe its far less safe than work that’s done on US soil. And I offer this as just another example of the FAA’s incestuous relationship with the industry and the manufacturers. They’re interested in profits. and when the FAA thinks they work for the industry and not the American people, it’s a problem and it calls for congressional oversight.” (“It’s ‘common sense’ to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8, transportation expert says”, CNBC, Squawk Box)

Samuelsen is certainly right in faulting the industry for its outsourcing practices. A recent interview on Democracy Now reveals that routine aircraft maintenance has become something of a joke, that there is very little oversight over maintenance at all. Here’s a clip from an interview with William McGee, who is an aviation journalist for Consumer Reports.

William McGee: “The bottom line is that the entire model of how the airline industry works in the United States has been changed dramatically in the last 15 years or so. All airlines in the United States—without question, all of them—in 2019, outsource some or most or just about all of their maintenance, what they call heavy maintenance. Much of it is done outside of the United States—El Salvador, Mexico, Brazil, China, Singapore. Again, we’re talking about U.S. airlines. And although the FAA, on paper, says there is one standard for maintenance of U.S. airlines, the reality is there isn’t. There are waivers given all the time, so that when work is done outside the United States, there are waivers so that there are no security background checks, there are no alcohol and drug screening programs put in place. And, in fact, many—in some cases, most—of the technicians cannot even be called mechanics, because they’re not licensed. They’re not licensed as they’re required to be in the U.S. So, basically, you have two sets of rules. You have one that’s for in-house airline employees and another for the outsourced facilities. And this all leads back to the FAA. I have sat in a room with FAA senior officials and asked them about this, and they say that they don’t think it’s a problem. It is a problem.” (“Ralph Nader’s Grandniece Died in Ethiopian Plane Crash; Now He Is Urging Boycott of Boeing Jet”, Democracy Now)

Naturally, all of this new information is going to undermine confidence in the airlines and the FAA. But while cost-cutting measures on maintenance is serious, it doesn’t rise to the level of criminal negligence which could be the case with the Indonesia and Ethiopia disasters. If the manufacturers or the FAA had first-hand knowledge that MAX 8 contained (as Samuelsen says) “an override device that could nosedive a plane and cause mass loss of life”, then serious charges are likely to be filed against some very important people.

Mary Schiavo, who is the former inspector general at the U.S. Department of Transportation, has been particularly harsh in her criticism of the FAA’s “symbiotic” relationship with Boeing. In an interview on CNN last week, Schiavo said the following:

CNN: You and I spoke 24 hours ago and I asked you then why the U.S. had not grounded the Boeing 737 explains. Now it’s done just that. But the U.S. was the last country to do so. What changed the FAA’s mind so suddenly and why did it take so long to reach that conclusion?

SCHIAVO: Well,…. there had been complaints in the United States by U.S. pilots concerning this plane before the Ethiopia crash and before the Indonesia crash….And then, also there was — it was revealed that the FAA says the Boeing was supposed to make changes by April. But the infighting revealed that it wasn’t decided what those changes should be…..

CNN– ..As you say, officially, the FAA has identified the similarities between the Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes and that’s why they were grounded… But wasn’t that exactly why other countries did that? So why gamble with the lives of passengers?…

SCHIAVO: Well, you are exactly right. That’s what the Federal Administration was doing with the lives of American passengers. Because we were the last, they were just betting that even though they didn’t know how to fix the plane and they didn’t really know what caused the second crash, they were just gambling that it wouldn’t happen a third time before somebody figured out what to do. And that was totally unacceptable….”
(“CNN Newsroom with Rosemary Church”, CNN)

If what Schiavo says is correct, then the FAA had identified the problem but failed to do anything about it. They allowed the airlines to continue flying the same model 737 MAX 8 knowing that another crash could take place at any time killing everyone on board. If that’s not criminal negligence, then what is?

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Aviation, Boeing, FAA 
Hide 15 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
    []
  1. MBlanc46 says:

    So now Trump is responsible for air crashes. Imagine that.

  2. TAIG says:

    Mike, you’re back! Where have you been, baby? Love your writing.

  3. Trump said he was on a Swamp-draining mission, including draining the lucrative mass-immigration wing of the Swamp, where many Lockness Monsters of the “Cheap Labor Lobby” dwell.

    Those six-figure lobbyists for global corporation don’t just dwell in the executive branch.

    They also write the bills that the US Comgress votes up or down. Like all of our America-last businesspeople, they are constantly flying around the globe, drumming up new ways to make sure that underemployed and out-of-the-laborforce citizens of the USA are undercut by offshored workers, outsourced workers and millions of new welfare-eligible immigrants from every corner of the globe who can afford to work cheaply due to monthly welfare and ever-swelling child tax credits for their US-born kids.

    It would be better for un-represented US citizens if highly paid elites were not doing so much global wheeler-dealing, taking one business trip after another to resort locations that look a lot like a high volume of decadent vacations to the serfs back in the USA.

    They could spend some time creating jobs here in the USA for the 95 million US citizens between the ages of 16 and 65 who are still out of the labor force and for the underemployed, including the average “employed” person in the USA who is just a part-time worker—often a welfare-buoyed one.

    Of course, they should have admitted the mistake the first time, stopping the flights in response to such a huge loss of life. Mistakes happen in all professions, but that is a bigly, bigly mistake.

    But what you have to understand is that although, according to the Supreme Court, corporations are people, they are infallible people, sort of like the Pope.

    American corporations are above criticism when they are making bigly money for a few bigwigs at the tippy top, with the top 20% of their highly paid employees in dual-earner households also making bank while enjoying family-friendly / vacation-friendly hours, especially when they also turn out plenty of low-wage and part-time jobs for single moms with welfare-covered monthly bills and up to $6,431 in child tax credit money, for immigrants in single-breadwinner households with the same welfare-for-womb-productivity spread covering their major household bills and for married moms with spousal income who just need a little extra pocket money and absenteeism-friendly hours.

    Big American corporations of all kinds have a strange-bedfellow alliance, with a tiny minority of employees making ten, twenty, thirty or 430 times more than everyone else and a welfare-qualified majority that is stoical due to all of the pay streams they receive from Uncle Sam for sex, reproduction and part-time work that keeps them under the earned-income limits for welfare.

    It is all done not for greed, but for babies and working families in the era of feminist working moms. So, things like the quality of the work do not matter, no matter how serious the work is.

  4. Biff says:

    then serious charges are likely to be filed against some very important people.

    I’ll believe it when I see it. Corporate America has been killing people with impunity for a long, LONG time.
    Nevertheless, it will be interesting how they will spin this one.

  5. Biff says:

    That aircraft safety has taken a backseat to corporate profits during the Trump era, should surprise no one. President Trump has made no effort to conceal his contempt for regulations or “do-goodie” consumer advocates. This is why his economics team is loaded with former Wall Street executives and crackpot “trickle downers” rather than respected economists with years of government experience.

    To go on a (anti)Trump crusade at this point is lazy and disingenuous. This is the way Washington has been doing business for many decades, and to suddenly blame it on the latest clown car parked in the White House reeks of virtue signaling, and you can never find a solution in that – other than “All we need to do is elect more democrats!” Puke, puke, puke, and puke… Sorry, I have to clean myself up now.

    Hillary would’ve only been slightly worse, than the same.

  6. Your article is about two topics: The dangers of outsourcing and the MAXes problems.

    That service outsourcing diminishes safety is a reasonable hypothesis.

    Then the MAXes problems:

    Probably, after all, at least five pilots had voiced their concerns about the plane’s performance on a confidential FAA hotline that was used for troubleshooting mechanical or other problems.

    This is an interesting point, but I don’t get the “probably” here. There definitely were five pilots articulating their concerns on the FAA hotline, – or maybe even more – that’s how I understand your sentence. Would that be right?

    SCHIAVO: Well, you are exactly right. That’s what the Federal Administration was doing with the lives of American passengers. Because we were the last, they were just betting that even though they didn’t know how to fix the plane and they didn’t really know what caused the second crash, they were just gambling that it wouldn’t happen a third time before somebody figured out what to do. And that was totally unacceptable….”

    If what Schiavo says is correct, then the FAA had identified the problem but failed to do anything about it. – That was not totally unacceptable as she had it – because the expression “totally unacceptable” would be appropriate if one would talk about some offensive behavior or rude talk. Whereas what happened here is criminal, which is something entirely different om “totally unacceptable”, – especially what the consequences are concerned.

  7. buckwheat says:

    People that can’t drive a goat cart shouldn’t be flying a sophisticated aircraft. With the amount of training the Ethiopian pilot had he shouldn’t have been flying a kite…….

    • Replies: @lloyd
  8. Beb says:

    The evidence that we, the public, have been allowed to see, pretty clearly implicates Boeing for putting $$ ahead of safety – and the FAA, for turning a blind eye to greed and allowing that. Let them both defend themselves in court against billion dollar lawsuits.

  9. lloyd says: • Website
    @buckwheat

    I had been wondering if anyone would dare raise that elephant in the room. Ethiopians can drive goat cars and fly kites. But we have to consider that political correctness is killing people on a large scale. Those pilots are taught and live in a third world country. If you examine the latest large commercial air crashes, they were Malaysia, Indonesia and Ethiopia. Ethiopian airlines is international. But I would be curious about the ethnicity of their pilots outside Ethiopia. The Ethiopian airline website said, Ethiopian Airlines in Africa has a good safety record by African standards. Malaysia has affirmative action running though all its institutions that lower professional standards for its Malayas. Under normal circumstances, commerical pilots take off and land and leave the rest to computers. I imagine the average Joe can fly one without difficulty. But when something starts going wrong. Then a cool analytical mind is needed.

    • Replies: @lavoisier
  10. anarchyst says:

    Engineers, please feel free to make corrections to this tome…

    Having consulted with those who are knowledgeable about flight systems, I have come to the following understanding of the way things (are supposed to) work.

    American airplane manufacturers (Boeing, etc.) have always designed their “fly-by wire” flight systems to allow ANY maneuver to take place, under the control of the pilot. Extreme emergencies might require the pilot to fly and maneuver outside the recommended parameters. This concept has helped pilots recover from a normally unrecoverable situation, resulting in lives being saved (including the flight crew).

    European (Airbus, etc.) “fly-by-wire” systems do not allow deviation from the “programmed” parameters. These systems will actually prohibit the pilot from exercising any maneuver that is “outside the envelope”, even if flying outside the recommended parameters is the safest course of action to take at the time.

    Engineers–what say you?

    As an aside, Israeli computer hackers have invented viruses and “hacks” that can infect industrial control systems. These “hacks” have been used to good effect in taking down nuclear plants in various middle-eastern countries. The “stuxnet” virus comes to mind.

    What if…a virus was taking down the flight systems in these Boeing aircraft?

    Food for thought…

    • Replies: @dearieme
  11. Who’s responsible? Killiary Clintong and the proprietary computer chip installed that allows remote takeover of every kind of vehicle from cars to planes. Look it up!

  12. lavoisier says: • Website
    @lloyd

    I imagine the average Joe can fly one without difficulty. But when something starts going wrong. Then a cool analytical mind is needed.

    I doubt that the average Joe can fly a suspersonic aircraft.

    Although the airline industry has turned pilots into wage slaves, I would bet that the average pilot of a supersonic aircraft has a higher IQ than the average airline executive.

  13. dearieme says:
    @anarchyst

    “What if…a virus was taking down the flight systems in these Boeing aircraft?”

    You sound like one of those nitwits who claimed that hacking must be the explanation of why USN warships collide with merchantmen.

    • Replies: @anarchyst
  14. anarchyst says:
    @dearieme

    dearieme:
    Your name-calling has no place in any intelligent conversation. As an engineer, I know much more than you about the possibility of corrupted control systems, and those who have the capability of doing such deeds. Grow up!

  15. Jett Rucker says: • Website

    The involvement of government(s) adds less than nothing to these processes. The aircraft manufacturers sell aircraft to ostensibly willing airlines, while those airlines sell tickets to ostensibly willing passengers.

    But air travel, competing here and there against rail and ship, can be a lot like a monopoly. So … the camel’s nose (the government’s) is in the tent.

    And from there, the path to Hell is short and fast, with the FAA being corrupted, Canada being sucked along, and passengers (remember the passengers?) having no choices between safety and lower costs.

    And the beat goes on. And the government(s) call the tune. Pay up, get on board, and cross your fingers.

Current Commenter
says:

Leave a Reply -


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Mike Whitney Comments via RSS