737 Max 9 blowout: Boeing gambles with human lives for profit

On January 6, 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft were grounded after a door plug blew from one of the planes’ fuselages over Oregon during an Alaska Airlines flight. No passengers were seriously injured this time, but in at least three prior incidents, problems on Boeing planes ended in fatal disaster. Why? The Boeing bosses play dice with the lives of aircrews and passengers, all for the sake of profit. The reckless aviation giant’s history of missing or faulty parts, suppression of safety protocols, and utter negligence is only one symptom of a much larger decay in capitalist production.

[Originally published at socialistrevolution.org]

Despite Boeing’s ostensibly untouchable reputation on the world market—the common refrain among pilots once was, “if it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going”—the aviation monopoly has a pattern of hushing up safety inspectors, pilots, and its own workers. To cover itself, Boeing employs highly paid lobbyists to secure its interests in Washington.

In 2018, 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 364. Both were caused by faulty software that Boeing neglected to instruct pilots on. That same year, an engine on a Boeing 737-700 exploded over Philadelphia, shattering a window and killing a woman.

After investigating the latest malfunction, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed that four key bolts were not installed into the door plug on the Max 7 fuselage during manufacturing. As if this wasn’t damning enough, Boeing’s negligence was on display again last month, when a Colombia-bound flight out of Atlanta lost its front wheel while sitting on the runway preparing for takeoff. And yet again just the other day when a Boeing 757-200 performed an emergency landing due to a damaged wing that is still being investigated—but which some speculate was caused by the misassembling of the wing or a lack of maintenance.

At first, the capitalist media tried to spin the blown door plug as an anomaly. But after the NTSB findings, they had to admit it was the result of “a cost-cutting move.” Weeks before the blowout, workers at the subcontractor manufacturing the door plugs, Spirit AeroSystems, warned their bosses that a failure like this was bound to happen. Numerous complaints were filed to a federal court regarding the “excessive amount of defects” on Spirit fuselages. Internal inspection teams report discovering uncalibrated tools which can lead to improperly installed parts. The Spirit bosses—beneficiaries of a $75 million federal handout during the pandemic—covered up “systematic quality control problems” and retaliated against workers who raised safety concerns.

After the horrific 2018 tragedies, Boeing was criticized for “paying too much attention to returning money to shareholders and not enough to engineering.” Despite reckless corner cutting and a 42% market share worldwide, the aviation behemoth has been unable to turn an annual profit since 2018. Even after receiving billions in government subsidies and military contracts every year, Boeing’s net losses over the last five years amounted to $26.7 billion. As for Spirit AeroSystems, 50% of its annual revenue in 2020 came from the 737 MAX. We don’t have to guess as to why Spirit suppresses internal safety complaints.

planes Image Windmemories Wikimedia CommonsIn 2018, 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 364. Both were caused by faulty software that Boeing neglected to instruct pilots on / Image: Windmemories, Wikimedia Commons

Last year, Boeing managed to sideline the families of crash victims and secure a sweetheart plea deal when it was brought to criminal court in Texas on charges of conspiracy to defraud the US government by dodging safety regulations. After the grounding of the Max 9, Boeing was forced to withdraw its request to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a “safety exemption” to rush through the certification of the new Max 7 plane.

This shows, once again, that the capitalist state and its institutions are, as Marx and Engels put it, committees for managing the common affairs of the capitalist class. Occasionally, these institutions must chastise corporations like Boeing to deflect the class anger which their most monstrous crimes can inspire. But despite their hypocritical posturing, the FAA, NTSB, and the courts don’t exist to protect the public. They exist to protect the capitalists from the consequences of crises endemic to their system.

To combat its relative decline in the world market following recent disasters, Boeing began outsourcing more and more of its manufacturing. The result is a chaotic decentralization of production. Different stages of manufacturing fall out of sync in a Byzantine labyrinth of subcontractors. The fissures created by the capitalist logic of competition and profit maximization affect Boeing’s in-house manufacturing as well. A memo circulated by the head of Boeing’s commercial aircraft unit said, “many employees voiced frustration with … how unfinished jobs—either from our suppliers or within our factories—can ripple through the production line.” Boeing’s methods for raising productivity have turned into their opposite.

Airplanes are central to global infrastructure for both trade and travel. They are a social necessity, but the capitalists in charge of producing them do not have society’s interests in mind. Only a workers’ government can ensure safe and quality production by taking control of the commanding heights of the economy, nationalizing aviation and all other major branches of industry, and rationalizing production in a socialist central plan. Workers’ safety inspection committees could be elected on shop floors, and these committees would be responsible to the workers’ government, not profit-hungry shareholders. When workers participate in the planning of their own work and enjoy the technological advances they create, their commitment to creating well-made products will only intensify.

This kind of future is entirely possible. But we must fight to make it a reality. We need a mass communist party to organize this struggle, one that understands completely the impasse of capitalism and the way out. The comrades of the Revolutionary Communists of America are building such a party—a party that can fight and win.

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