Boeing 737 MAX: Is The US FAA Playing Politics With Passenger Safety?


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The list of countries and regions that have now introduce measures to prevent airlines from operating the Boeing 737 MAX 8 has been growing since the tragic accident involving Ethiopian  flight 302 on Sunday.

The European Union, Australia, China and India are just an example of the regions and countries where the 737 MAX aircraft may no longer operate (temporarily) but the US airline regulator (FAA) and the US airlines who operate the aircraft are, at the time of writing, sticking firm in their stance that the aircraft is perfectly safe. Why?

What do the FAA and the US airlines know that regulators and airlines around the world don’t know?

It’s true to say that we, in the outside world, have no real idea of what caused the fatal MAX 8 crash in Indonesia and we have no idea what caused the MAX 8 crash in Ethiopia on Sunday either, but quite a few regulators, countries and airlines appear to be in enough doubt about the MAX 8’s air worthiness to temporarily ground the aircraft.

So why not the US?

From an outsider’s point of view it’s very had to get away from the suspicion that money and politics are playing a very big part in what’s going on here in the US as there’s a lot on the line.

Boeing is an enormous corporation employing thousands of workers so its health (or even survival) is very important to large parts of the US economy and, thanks to its deep pockets, a large number of lobbyists too.

The same can be said about the US airlines.

Silk Air took the decision to ground its 737 MAX 8s yesterday

American Airlines (by some metrics the largest airline in the world) currently operates over 20 737 MAX aircraft, Southwest operates over 30 and United Airlines over 10 so a grounding of all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the US would probably have a pretty serious effect on flights, schedules and, let’s not forget, airline profitability.

Is is entirely out of the realm of possibility that, in the absence of any cold hard facts from air crash investigators , Boeing and certain airlines are putting pressure on the US government and the FAA not to ground the 737 MAX fleets?

I don’t think it is…and I’ll go further. I can’t think of any other reason why the US hasn’t gone down the same path as the EU, Australia, India, China etc. and taken a cautious approach when it comes to the 737 MAX.

Let me reiterate, to the best of my knowledge there has been no evidence supplied by air crash investigators which would suggest that the 737 MAX aircraft are anything but safe…but that’s not really the issue here.

What we do know is this:

  • Two new 737 MAX 8 aircraft have crashed in the space of 5 months
  • In modern aviation aircraft don’t just fall out of the sky on a frequent basis so to have two new aircraft of the same type involved in fatal accidents just 5 months apart looks very odd.
  • Airline pilots around the world (including those in the US) have said that Boeing did not tell them about a key feature of the new flight control/anti-stall system built into the 737 MAX and, as a result, some pilots have reported having issues with the aircraft.
  • Boeing has confirmed that it has been developing an update for its 737 MAX flight control software which it says will be ready later thins month….but the corporation stresses that this is just “to make an already safe aircraft even safer.”
Norwegian didn’t really have a choice bu to ground its 737 MAX 8 aircraft as the EU said the aircraft cannot overfly its airspace yesterday

We have an aircraft with a flight control system that pilots weren’t fully briefed on (how was that ever a good idea?), we have some pilots confirming they’ve had issues with the aircraft and we have the aircraft manufacturer developing a software update for the flight controls.

Is it even the slightest bit surprising that, with all that information and two fatal crashes in 5 months, that regulators and countries around the world are taking a “let’s play it safe” stance with the 737 MAX aircraft?

With the facts presented like that isn’t it entirely logical to say “ok, we really don’t know if there’s an issue with the 737 MAX or not but it’s dumb to take unnecessary risks with people’s lives so let’s ground the aircraft until we can be sure one way or another”?

That would appear to be the sensible and responsible approach to take….so why are the US and FAA resisting?

I cannot think of any reason other than one involving money and politics that is stopping the FAA, the US government and the US airlines from grounding the 737 MAX aircraft while experts figure out what’s going on.

We have a growing situation here where customers are calling up airlines asking if they’re booked to fly on a 737 MAX and, if they are, asking to be switched to a different flight (if I was an American Airlines flyer I’d be doing that even if the aircraft was 100% safe!).

Some airlines, like Southwest, appear to be allowing passenger to change their bookings without penalty and without having their fares repriced either…but I don’t think American is doing that.

I can’t help but feel that the FAA, the airlines and the politicians are letting people down here.

We’ve reached a point where we either need solid facts from a truly independent body to tell us that the 737 MAX aircraft are safe or we need the FAA to ground the aircraft until such a time where we can be sure that there isn’t an inherent problem that needs to be addressed.

How long more before Southwest and other US airlines ground the 737 MAX aircraft?

Bottom Line

At some point money and politics have to take a back seat to customer needs and right now customers need to know that the aircraft airlines are putting in the air are 100% safe.

While there’s any doubt whatsoever as to the safety of the 737 MAX aircraft (and there’s quite a bit of doubt going around right now) customers shouldn’t be expected to fly in them and crews shouldn’t be expected to work in them and these are ideas/rules that the FAA should have introduced by now…but it hasn’t.

Right now the FAA is starting to look a lot more like a toothless pawn of Boeing and the airlines rather than the regulator that should be striking fear into both and its credibility is being stretched to a point where it’s in danger of having none at all.

Unless the FAA knows something that no other regulator knows (in which case it should share that information) it should be grounding all 737 MAX aircraft in the US with immediate effect.

Can you imagine the fallout if we have a domestic incident with a 737 MAX while the rest of the world has the aircraft grounded? There won’t be enough money or lobbyists in the world to dig the FAA, Boeing and the airlines out of that mess.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Two sides of the same coin…

    “We don’t know for sure what’s going on — let’s ground everything until we know.”
    “We don’t know for sure what’s going on — let’s wait to do anything until we know the facts.”

    • I know which side of the coin I prefer – one side guarantees no further 737 MAX fatalities until more is known while the other doesn’t.

  2. You don’t think the EU had a reason to ground them due to airbus 😛 its all games but till we know what happened feelings are not the best way to decide on safety.

  3. The EU was one of the last to issue an order to prevent the aircraft flying in its airspace and, while I’m sure this is doing Airbus no harm at all, it’s hard to use the “let’s bash Boeing to help Airbus” argument when you take a look at the other regulators who have grounded the aircraft.

    Feelings are definitely not the best way to decide on safety but I don’t think its feelings that are in play here – a large part of the world appears to want to limit the risk to passengers (possibly out an abundance of caution) while the US appears to not share that wish.

    Personally I much prefer the abundance of caution route when it comes to passenger safety rather than the route the US appears to be pursuing.

  4. Well said. The FAA comes across as being a pack of political sycophants here. The one thing that I’ll say in the FAA’s defense is that I understand that the entire top echelon of management is nonexistent because the current administration hasn’t appointed any replacements. If correct, the blame for this ineptitude lies at the White House. This would be the case regardless of which party is in power.

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