Boeing, Boeing, GONE!
Last Wednesday, President Trump announced the grounding of the 737 MAX fleet in the United States, making it the last major country to take this step.
His statement came after days of turmoil that saw Boeing stock descend steadily while nation after nation moved to bar the fast-selling plane from flying. Reassurances from the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing started sounding thinner and thinner.
The president said Wednesday that “new information” from the wreckage of Ethiopian Airlines 302 “concerning the aircraft’s configuration just after takeoff,” when combined with satellite tracking data, indicated “some similarities” between this crash and the crash of Lion Air 610 in October.
Normally, the FAA administrator should have taken the lead on a safety decision like this. But President Trump still has not nominated an administrator, although he has suggested wanting to appoint to the post his personal pilot. The acting administrator is Daniel Elwell, a former lobbyist for American Airlines and the Aerospace Industries Association. At the very least, responsibility for this grounding decision should have gone to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
The independence of the FAA to make unbiased technical calls, like whether to ground the 737 MAX fleet, is fundamental, or should be. But since 2005, the agency has allowed manufacturers like Boeing to choose their own employees to serve as FAA “designees and help certify the planes,” according to The New York Times. Some FAA employees work full time inside Boeing’s plants. “Could they be influenced?” wonders Rep. Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Transportation Committee.
If independence is called into question, you end up with very reasonable questions about whether politicized regulators are in bed with the industry. When Boeing contributes millions to the executive branch and CEO Dennis Muilenburg makes lobbying phone calls to President Trump over the heads of regulators, aviation safety is being politicized.
This event uncovered a paradigm shift of seismic proportions for aviation safety and security. And it worries FlyersRights.org.
Southwest’s initial press release was chilling. It said, “Southwest is aware of media reports stating that the Boeing 737 MAX 8 fleet will be grounded in the United States. We are currently seeking confirmation and additional guidance from the FAA…”
Does that mean Trump did not coordinate with the FAA on this, and the FAA was therefore not coordinating with airlines? That would be, again we say, unprecedented and inappropriate.
Tellingly, there also was no airworthiness directive or statement on the FAA website for two hours after the president announced the grounding. The big mystery of the whole crisis was the fact that for four days, the FAA had arrogantly acted as if there was no issue. In the end, was the agency just a bystander? Did the president and the Boeing CEO themselves decide the best course of action?
Meanwhile, the FAA and DOT were risking more lives when they wanted to just wait and see if this plane would meet a third disaster.