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Boeing’s scandals prove why industry monopolies are problematic

Despite a slew of controversies, dangerous in-flight incidents, and two deadly plane crashes caused by faulty software, Boeing’s chokehold on the aviation industry is unlikely be relinquished.

In January of this year, a Boeing plane door blew off during flight and landed in a high school teachers’ garden in Oregon, USA.

Although no one on board (or the ground) was hurt, the incident terrified passengers and concerned frequent flyers, ultimately calling into question the quality and safety of Boeing fleets.

The incident was attributed to loose door-plug parts which are supposed to, well, keep the doors attached to the plane during flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) swiftly ordered all Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft to halt operation, only being allowed to remain in service once ‘thorough inspection and maintenances’ processes were complete.

A Boeing's door 'plug' has been found in a backyard after a mid-air blowout. Here's what we know - ABC News

In the days after the incident, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines conducted inspections on their 737 Max 9 planes and both reported finding loose door-plug parts on their grounded aircraft.

Though there are thoroughly-checked Max planes taking to the sky today, Boeing has been prohibited from accelerating production of this version of its planes, at least for the time being.

Customers are naturally freaking out, with some now checking which aircraft model they’ll be flying with before booking. The public now has their eyes firmly on Boeing, whose officials are pointing fingers at their own workers for these issues.

But several whistleblowers – all current or former Boeing employees – have blamed the company for creating a culture where raising concerns about safety and quality was discouraged, if not impossible.

Anyone getting the same vibes as that Spider-Man meme?

Only joking, because honestly, this is serious. Like, the difference between a fatal ride or an uneventful plane journey serious.

In recent months, Ed Clark, the Boeing executive who oversaw the 737 Max program, left the company. Boeing also created a new role of senior vice president of quality, which honestly, feels like a bit of an afterthought.

The FAA then conducted a six-week audit of Boeing. It uncovered multiple instances where the company failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements’ including ‘manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control.’

This is bad news, but it’s not exactly new news to anyone who’s been paying attention. Numerous ex-Boeing employees have blown the whistle on the company’s shifty practices across the last decades.

 

Boeing whistleblowers are suddenly dying

Back in 2017, John Barnett, a former Boeing quality control manager at the 787 plant in South Carolina, had tried to flag issues with the company’s safety compliance.

On March 9th, shortly after attention on Boeing safety spiked, Barnett was suddenly found dead in his car.

At the time of his death, Barnett had been enduring a year-long legal battle with Boeing, accusing them of retaliating against him for raising safety concerns over the company’s commercial airplanes.

Police have launched an investigation into his death. However, the coroner’s office has stated that Barnett died ‘from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound’.

Other whistleblowers have come forward in the past, criticising Boeing’s hierarchy and presenting evidence that a key supplier for Boeing was using defective parts to build the predecessor of 737 planes.

Joshua Dean had worked for Spirit AeroSystems, a key subcontractor in the production of 737 Max airliners. He was one of many former employees who refuted Boeing’s claims that it always put customer safety first.

He died in hospital earlier this May after suddenly becoming ill.

An externally conducted review of Boeing’s workplace safety structure saw experts agree that there is a ‘disconnect’ between executives and employees working on factory floors.

It also found signs that staff were hesitant about reporting problems within the company for fear of retaliation.

All of this information has sparked numerous online conspiracies. Many speculate that Boeing has put hits out on anyone who speaks against its processes.

 

How many scandals is Boeing facing?

Boeing’s reputation has been in tatters for a while, following two deadly and almost identical crashes of its 737 Max 8 jets in 2018 and 2019. Together, the accidents cost 346 lives.

It was flawed flight control software that caused these crashes, but Boeing was accused of deliberately concealing details about the problem from federal regulators.

In 2021, the company reached a $2.5 billion settlement with the US Justice Department despite pleading not guilty to fraud and vowed to make improvements to its safety standards.

When pleading not guilty, it blamed the crashes on two ‘relatively low-level’ employees for not complying with manufacturing and safety instructions.

Now that Boeing is facing a fresh string of controversy, the company will have until June 13th to respond to the government’s allegation that it violated its commitment to making these improvements.

Is Boeing a monopoly?

Boeing has a huge monopoly over the aviation industry, despite being technically labelled a ‘duopoloy’ due to competing globally with European rival Airbus.

This is because Boeing sells its planes to commercial airlines, which can’t easily replace their entire fleets with Airbus’ aircraft – especially when pilots are often certified to fly one or the other of these planes.

People also look to the FAA, which is responsible for overseeing Boeing’s operations, and have criticised the corporation’s tight-knit relationship with the U.S. government.

The US government plays a key role in helping Boeing’s sales internationally, and is a major employer and military contractor.

All of this considered, it’s clear Boeing has immense power over the commercial airline industry. It probably isn’t wrong to assume that many of the company’s internal and external issues have stemmed from this level of omnipotence.

In light of continued scandals around Boeing, people have asked: why doesn’t Boeing become nationalised?

With Boeing already raking in 40 percent of its revenue from government contracts, it seems like this wouldn’t be such a hard transition. However, experts agree that while this may be desirable, it is not a likely result.

 

Should fliers be afraid of Boeing?

The truth is, flying is the safest it’s ever been.

While minor plane mishaps occur regularly, we’re now hearing more about them as public attention toward Boeing and its practices grows.

Kelsey Piper, who writes for Vox’s Future Perfect section which aims at ‘writing about what’s important, not just what’s new,’ explains this perfectly.

Piper has accused journalists of taking advantage of Boeing’s scandals for clicks. She says that publications are deliberately churning out fear-mongering content that doesn’t accurately reflect the situation.

‘“Three million people flew in and out of US airports today, and none of them died except of natural causes” isn’t a conventional news story, but it’s factual — and worth keeping in mind,’ writes Piper.

With this considered, Boeing still has a lot of explaining to do in court.

If there are problems with the company’s workplace culture, quality check procedures, and safety standards – this will (or should) be the turning point for improvement.

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