Boeing has its Ford Pinto moment ?

When two virtually new commercial aircraft fall out of the sky in similar circumstances within a short time of each other resulting in the death of all passengers and crew an alarm bell rang and in my head. To put it in context I was employed in the motor for nearly 40 years, prior to that I’d worked for a short time in the aviation industry trying to emulate my father who’d spent a lifetime there. I remembered reading things he brought home about air accident investigations, he’d taken me to a vast hanger in Farnborough I think, where remains of crashed aircraft were painstaking reconstructed to try to establish what went wrong. This was in the days before fly by wire and blackbox technology. I was fascinated then and have been ever since. My life in the car industry had a similar edge, how we were under pain of death to never ever use the term “safety critical” on any document and if we ever found one to flag it up so it could be amended into a new and pristine version with the offending versions destroyed. I learned about the Ford Pinto which the makers happily put into production and on sale knowing that in the event of a rear collision the fuel tank would most likely rupture causing an inferno that would probably incinerate the occupants of the car. We learned about looking for things in design or functionality that might, just almost infinitesimally might cause injury or worse to an occupant of one of our vehicles for reasons not due to external circumstances. We looked at everything and then looked again. To knowingly make and sell a car that might have a fault that could in certain circumstance cause someone a problem was to be avoided at all cost. So we come to Boeing 737 MAX problems, it seems to me that this aircraft started out with an issue which Boeing knew about when they put it on the market, of course it’s just conjecture and I couldn’t prove it, but that software upgrade which still isn’t out there, the optional extra safely system warning light that tells you that one of two things are not functioning correctly that can be retrofitted, the issue with Lion Air flight which seemed to point to an addendum to the flight manual which might have not got into the hands of flight crew, the second plane falling out of the sky in almost identical circumstances and the gradual dawning by operators and national aviation authorities that something wasn’t right. Perhaps Boeing really thought this plane was safe to fly, or believed that it was probably safe based on use and testing by highly experienced crew who flew it by the book. The Ford Pinto was perfect as long as it didn’t get hit in the rear, Ford sold it as safe, they actually covered up or attempted to cover up the known safety issue. The parallels are there between Ford and Boeing, the aircraft was the biggest seller in years, the Pinto likewise, the order books outweighed the issues of safety, the risk was accepted and probably without a heavy heart in the name of profit. As I’ve said before I can’t prove anything, but I think there’s a whole bunch of lawyers who will be looking forward to the forthcoming litigation. Will Boeing be put out of business? no but hopefully their will be an element of relearning by all the large corporations, government organisations and public institutions that where safely is concerned there is no way of avoiding an issue in the interests of profit or sheer laziness.

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