Frequent Fliers Freaking Out: Boeing’s turbulent year

Graphic by Sophie Reichert/Graphics Center

I’ve been traveling all my life. I’ve never had a fear of flying or of planes — I’ve always known it was an extremely safe method of travel. The most safe, in fact, according to the Boston Globe. But this spring break, when my plane took off, I was a bit more nervous than usual. I wasn’t alone in this feeling. Every time the plane hit a bit of turbulence, I could sense my fellow passengers thinking the same thing as me: were we the next unlucky plane to be victimized by mid-air defects?

Airplane manufacturer Boeing has long been scrutinized for declining product quality, but after a series of recent, serious mid-air malfunctions, the public pressure to crack down on these issues is growing. What started as an isolated incident in January when the door of an Alaska Airlines jet blew off midair has become an epidemic, revealing the downsides of corporate cost-cutting.

Boeing’s prioritization of profit over product quality endangers lives. The company must face accountability and regulation.

Since January’s door incident, it seems like a week doesn’t go by without a new plane having a public defect. Two different incidents in San Francisco alone caused Boeing planes to abort their flights, within a span of a mere eight days this month. That includes one where a plane lost a tire during takeoff, which fell and crushed several cars. 

Luckily, no one was injured in that instance, but that doesn’t mean that these are not critical safety issues. Earlier this month, 50 people were injured flying from Australia to New Zealand when a technical defect caused a nose dive. The Alaska Airlines incident proved near-fatal and is now being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a crime. Further, all of these issues are shadowed by the 2018 fatal 737 Max crashes that killed a combined 346 people. 

Recently, an investigation into Boeing by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found dozens of manufacturing issues, as well as multiple times the company deliberately ignored safety and quality-control regulations. Following the Alaska Airlines incident, approximately 200 Boeing 737 Max planes nationwide were temporarily grounded by the FAA for inspection. 

With Boeing planes under such scrutiny, some passengers have begun to boycotting flights that pose a risk. However, that strategy is harder than one might initially expect. Boeing is widely regarded as one-half of a duopoly making up the airplane manufacturing industry. In 2020, Boeing and its European rival Airbus made up 91% of the industry, and over a quarter of all commercial aircraft are Boeing 737s. At this point, it’s incredibly difficult to not fly Boeing, especially in the United States, where the company is based.

In fact, Boeing currently has such a stranglehold over the aircraft industry that it has been deemed “too big to fail” by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Chair. Even if I was only four years old during the 2008 financial crisis, I know enough about the economy for those words to send a shiver down my spine. 

An article by Vox details how the company became lax in an industry with so little competition, and began engaging in cost-cutting measures to increase profit margins. Instead of putting money into research and development, the company spent a decade and more than 40 million dollars on stock buybacks. Executives’ focus on faster production lines to rush out planes led to poor working conditions and a lack of quality control.

With all these red flags, it’s clear that the government needs to implement stricter regulations for Boeing. While there has been progress made for accountability, such as Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun announcing Tuesday his plans to resign and the Department of Justice opening an investigation on the subject, the problems have been glaring since the beginning. The company should never have been allowed to control such a large portion of the market, achieved through massive corporate mergers. Somewhere along the line, antitrust laws should have kicked in. Further, quality standards should be even higher for a company with billions of dollars in defense contracts with world governments. 

Increased safety regulation is needed. Part of the problem is that the FAA, the agency supposedly meant to regulate aircraft manufacturers, notoriously allows Boeing to perform its own regulation checks — a clear conflict of interest. Independent, third-party investigators should be assessing compliance for Boeing, not the company itself.

Boeing is one clear-cut example of how ruthless pursuit of profit at any cost is a hazard to us all. Our government needs to crack down harder when the warning signs of corporate irresponsibility appear. It shouldn’t take a door ripping off 40,000 feet in the air for a company to face accountability.

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Opinion Editor: Chisom Okorafor

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