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Plane Crashes: Profit Before People

Plane Crashes: Profit Before People

  • World Socialist Party US
    World Socialist Party US
  • 09
    2019
    Aug
    2:26 pm
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This article is taken from the latest issue of Imagine, the journal of the Socialist Party of Canada, our Canadian companion party. The author is John Ayers.

Profit before people! This is the oft repeated lament of the Left. We hear it when capitalist firms lay off workers, cut pay, neglect safety, or pollute the air, water, or soil. Recently the cry went up when General Motors announced the closing of the Oshawa assembly plant, which has been in operation for over 100 years and currently employs about 3,000 workers, not to mention the estimated seven spin-off jobs for every GM worker. 

On March 30, 2019, The Toronto Star published an article by David Olive entitled: ‘How Profit, Poor Oversight Were behind The Fatal Crashes – Regulators, Boeing Have a Lot To Answer For.’ It referred to the two airplane crashes involving the new Boeing 737 Max, which killed 346 passengers and crew in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Hearings in Washington noted similar causes, but most damning being the rushed development of the airplane and the lax certification by regulators who trusted Boeing’s word that only ‘modest tweeking’ was needed. It also came to light that Boeing was in a race to get the new plane to market before the Airbus SE was ready and the expected cut into Boeing’s market share took place. The 737 Max’s larger engines had to be placed further forward, risking destabilization at slower speeds on turns. 

Olive writes: ‘When the aircraft reaches too steep a vertical angle it can stall and go into an unrecoverable nose dive.’ An anti-stall software package called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was installed to correct this. However, Boeing decided to feed data to MCAS from only one of the two fuselage-mounted sensors, making the aircraft vulnerable to faulty data from a single sensor. The Indonesian crash indicated that faulty data from a single source were received by MCAS. Pilots can override faulty data and use manual controls instead, but the Indonesia Airlines pilots did not have the training needed to do this. They did not even know that MCAS existed. Boeing argued at the hearing that by using emergency procedures the pilots could have regained control of the aircraft, but emergency procedure documents also made no mention of MCAS. Presumably, this was an attempt by Boeing to establish pilot error and absolve themselves. 

Flight simulation of the Lion Air emergency showed that the pilots would have had less than 40 seconds to avert the crash. Ironically, one of Boeing’s sales pitches was that the new aircraft would require no new pilot training, thereby saving the buyer millions of dollars. Boeing’s reaction has been to rejig MCAS to receive data from both sensors and offer to compensate customers for pilot training.

Reluctant to delay marketing of the airplane, regulators in the United States, Canada, and Europe were easily convinced by Boeing’s claim that no new pilot training would be necessary. The American and Canadian regulators (the National Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada) have been quick to review their certification processes. Sure, heads will roll. But when the dust settles will anything that gets in the way of profit-making be enforced? Not likely!

Yes, this was an example of putting profit before people. However, the Left misses several points in their rush to condemn errant firms. 

First. Every capitalist firm is in business for the profit. No profit or insufficient profit will close down any firm in short order. Commodities are produced not for use but for profit. 

Second. All firms are in competition with each other, whether they are in the same industry or not. They all compete to sell their product before all others. Any and every advantage is sought and used. Criminal activities such as industrial espionage are not uncommon. One way to gain extra profit is to get your product to market before anyone else and enjoy the high selling prices before a rival can get to market and bring prices down. This is why Boeing dispensed with costly pilot training and was able to persuade compliant regulatory boards to accept and certify the 737 Max. It had to beat the Airbus SE and reap the extra rewards for its shareholders. 

Capitalism is a system of profit making above all else. Nothing must get in the way of profit — whether safety, the environment, or maintaining decent working conditions. Capitalism can never change even if capitalists wanted it to. It must be removed by the majority of society, the working class, and the sooner the better!