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Boeing Should Not Get Coronavirus Stimulus Funds

Boeing 737 Max Ethical Violations

The $ 2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress includes funds for Boeing Corporation. The company had lobbied Congress for at least $60 billion for itself and a large supplier network to cushion against the effects of the pandemic. Boeing is concerned about canceled orders from aircraft carriers during the coronavirus outbreak as airline travel declines. Right now, Boeing is saying it doesn't need the funds. Nevertheless, the government should not have included Boeing in the stimulus package because it ignored warnings from a whistle-blower about its 737 Max Planes, two of which went down and killed all passengers aboard as a result of problems with its flight-maneuvering system. Boeing ignored the warnings. The company has forfeited the right to receive any stimulus funds.

Boeing’s 737 Max planes still have not returned to the marketplace following the October 2018 incident when a Lion Air Flight plunged into the sea killing 189 people on board, quickly followed by the crash of the Max flown by Ethiopian Airlines killing all 157 on board. The accidents occurred because of problems with the flight software – Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) program. The software automatically lowers the nose of the plane when deemed necessary by the controls, even if the pilot does not want the plane to descend.  

The most disturbing news about the incidents is that Boeing was warned by a whistle-blower, Ed Pierson, that manufacturing practices at the Renton, Washington location put the plane at risk because pressure existed to increase production of the 737 Max planes creating a “factory in chaos.”

The reason for the pressure was that American Airlines had just announced it struck a tentative deal with Airbus for its short-haul planes. American had asked Boeing to come up with something similar as the deal offered by Airbus. This meant Boeing had to work fast and produce more planes, each with 15 percent more fuel efficiency. Lion air

To produce the 737 aircraft to become more fuel efficiency and hit timeline targets, several technical changes were needed, including the introduction of an anti-stalling mechanism—MCAS. So, to meet market and competitive demands, the company rushed the design and production thereby risking a possible hidden fault.

Employees at the Renton factory were overworked, exhausted and making mistakes, Pierson said in an interview with the NY Times, “A cascade of damaged parts, missing tools and incomplete instructions was preventing planes from being built on time.” Executives were pressuring workers to complete planes despite staff shortages and a chaotic factory floor. “Frankly right now all my internal warning bells are going off,” Mr. Pierson said in an email to the head of the 737 program in June 2018 that was reviewed by the Times. “And for the first time in my life, I’m sorry to say that I’m hesitant about putting my family on a Boeing airplane.”

It’s ironic, to say the least, that Boeing ignored its own “enduring values,” that include integrity, quality, safety, trust and respect. As such, the company adds to the list of corporations that have acted irresponsibly even though they were warned about problems with the product. The list includes, most recently, Volkswagen (defeat device), Takata (faulty air bags) and Wells Fargo (unauthorized customer accounts).

The real cause of the problems at Boeing and, indeed, all of these companies, is a lack of ethical leadership. Top managers placed the profit motive ahead of serving the public interest. They sacrificed the health and welfare of customers for greedy ends. This is not a new story. Allowing a product to go to market or remain active even after evidence exists there is a problem with product safety traces back to the 1970s and the Ford Pinto.

There has been some talk about giving bailout funds to Boeing during the coronavirus outbreak. This would be a mistake. No company should be rewarded for bad leadership and irresponsible behavior that has cause hundreds of people their lives.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on March 30, 2020. Dr. Mintz recently published a book Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior that is available on Amazon. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics.