Soaring Capitalism and Boeing’s Max 8

I’ve long felt that the United States’ economic model is leading us to ruin. The grab-all approach to business and wealth strengthens the strong while shutting doors to the rest of us. Capitalism encourages greed and monopoly.
This graph clearly illustrates the rise of corporate profits (the blue line) and the decline of employee wages (the red line) over a sixty-three-year span. The reality I was born into is no more, thanks to Adam Smith and Ronald Reagan.

The Boeing story is a good example of how the pursuit of corporate profits can affect we commoners. Boeing is just another American company, churning out aircraft and doing their best to make a profit. They aren’t looking to hurt anyone. They do not want their planes to crash any more than their passengers do.

Boeing’s 737 Max planes are fitted out with larger engines placed farther forward on its wings, which tends to push the plane’s nose up. So Boeing installs an automated system designed to make the adjustments necessary to push the nose back down. The new model is approved by the FAA in 2017 and sales began to flow. Boeing is so happy about this they crow about it on their Website: “The 737 MAX is the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing history with about 5,000 orders from more than 100 customers worldwide.”

This is Boeing’s latest victory in their race against rival Airbus. There are really only two passenger plane manufacturers on the playing field. Boeing has done everything they can to make these planes attractive to airlines around the world. One big selling point is that the 737 Max is so similar to the older 737’s that airlines don’t have to spend money training their pilots to fly them. Although now the world is beginning to think some training would have been a good idea because these planes are not just like their predecessors.

Last October Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 went down within minutes of leaving the airport, killing all 189 people on board. A couple of weeks ago Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 had a nearly identical crash resulting in the death of all 157 passengers and crew. Both pilots were flying 737 Max 8s. We learned from the Lion Air flight data that the automated system pushed the plane’s nose down and the pilot responded by aiming the nose higher twenty-six times before hitting the water. Twenty-six times! In other words, the pilot and the computer were locked in a deadly battle for control of the plane. Experts believe the system was taking in a faulty sensor reading.

This morning The New York Times took the story one step further with Doomed Boeing Jets Lacked 2 Safety Features That Company Sold Only as Extras. The article explains how the two fatal Max 8 might have been avoided if the planes had come equipped with two (optional) safety features. Buzz! This does not look good for Boeing, I must say.

Although Boeing declined to disclose the price of the two safety features, The Times did some digging and learned that “Gol Airlines, a Brazilian carrier, paid $6,700 extra for oxygen masks for its crew, and $11,900 for an advanced weather radar system control panel” for a previous version of the 737. So these special features can be pretty pricey.

Add-on features can be big moneymakers for plane manufacturers.

In 2013, around the time Boeing was starting to market its 737 Max 8, an airline would expect to spend about $800,000 to $2 million on various options for such a narrow-body aircraft, according to a report by Jackson Square Aviation, a consultancy in San Francisco. That would be about 5 percent of the plane’s final price.

To save money and because the two, potentially life-saving, features were billed as “optional” by Boeing, both Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines declined to purchase Boeing’s “angle of attack indicator” and “disagree light.” Had the planes been equipped with these two features, the pilots might have stood a fighting chance.

But U.S. Airlines all opted for the optional safety features, didn’t they? Not exactly.

The three American airlines that bought the 737 Max each took a different approach to outfitting the cockpits.

American Airlines, which ordered 100 of the planes and has 24 in its fleet, bought both the angle of attack indicator and the disagree light, the company said.

Southwest Airlines, which ordered 280 of the planes and counts 36 in its fleet so far, had already purchased the disagree alert option, and it also installed an angle of attack indicator in a display mounted above the pilots’ heads. After the Lion Air crash, Southwest said it would modify its 737 Max fleet to place the angle of attack indicator on the pilots’ main computer screens.

United Airlines, which ordered 137 of the planes and has received 14, did not select the indicators or the disagree light. A United spokesman said the airline does not include the features because its pilots use other data to fly the plane.

At this point in time, all U.S. 737 Max aircraft have been grounded pending further investigation. As you may know, the United States waited until dozens of other countries grounded their 737 Maxes before following suit. Canada dragged its feet, too. I have to admit, the delay had me biting my nails.

How to tell if you are about to board a 737 Max: Look for the split winglets.

A few years ago this story would have gone right over my head, but with Bob’s busy flight schedule, I am fixated. I hear that Boeing is going to make this right by elevating both sensors from optional to standard. I hope they also recommend some kind of pilot training for this next generation of planes. 737 or not, this is not the same beast and pilots all over the world deserve to know what they are dealing with.

It makes me uneasy to think that a big company like Boeing will squeeze their buyers to the point of declaring essential safety equipment “optional.” Sadly, this is just one example of how capitalism has run amok. The larger the corporation, the more they get caught up in the competition game. It’s easy to turn a blind eye when you have your sights set on a goal, but that doesn’t excuse Boeing.

Meanwhile, we simple wage earners read the news and shake our heads. We poke away at our consumer debt, plant gardens, stretch the leftovers into second meals, and hope the FAA keeps the Max 8 on the ground until Boeing makes them safe for everyone to fly.

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