As an Air Passenger, as you step onto a plane your principle feeling and sentiment is one of trust. Trust, first and foremost in the crew, especially the Captain. Secondly, you place your trust in the carrier; that they have overseen all the correct procedures on the ground to ensure that the plane is airworthy i.e. the ground crew has done their job properly, in servicing the plane. Then lastly, it is trust in the manufacturer, that they have provided a vehicle that has been manufactured to the standards and controls that are demanded by the authorities overseeing the Airline manufacturing industry. Having travelled on Russian Ilyushin II-96 airliners throughout the 90s, I remember being regularly concerned on all three counts.
The fact is very few of us know how to fly a plane and/or understand the basics of flight and jet propulsion. When for instance we get on a bus, many of the passengers have a driving licence and feel that in the case of emergency they could take the wheel. Likewise on a train, you believe if needed you could apply the brakes, but on a plane one feels helpless.
This is why the findings from the black boxes retrieved from the recent Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes are so devastating for the travelling public, and central to their biggest concern is how much Boeing knew after the first one?
Let’s face it when countries and authorities started to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 after the Flight ET 302 crash the travelling public became very concerned. But when the arch capitalist and “searcher for truth” Donald Trump became involved in the decision to ground the plane in the US, panic set in.
On both occasions, erroneous data caused the aircraft to nosedive shortly after take-off.
The automatic system was designed to reactivate repeatedly, so when the pilots on Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines 302 pulled the nose of the plane back up, the stall mechanism kicked in again, pushing the nose of each aircraft back down.
For Capt Brady, author of the Boeing 737 technical guide, this saga presents a long list of issues which need to be looked at.
“The level of automation of the aircraft, the behind the scenes systems, the risk analysis processes gone through at Boeing, the oversight by the regulator, the conversion training, the level of training generally, the manual flying skills of the crews. All of it needs to be reviewed in light of these accidents,” he says.
Multiple inquiries are underway. One lawsuit has been filed and more are likely. The issue is, on flight ET 302 were some globally respected Environmental sector experts, who were on their way to a UN conference in Nairobi. Many of these were extremely well connected.
One passenger was related to Ralph Nader, who ran several times for the US Presidency. He’s an experienced lawyer and has form taking on big corporations.
His allegations against Boeing are extreme and he has already filed two lawsuits.
“You’re going to be brought to justice-and the responsibility will start with the CEO and their managers that made this critically fatal decision for over 350 innocent people in Indonesia and Ethiopia”.
His are just the first, one other suit was filed in Chicago last week but many are thought to follow. This suit alleges that Boeing had defectively designed the automated flight control system..
The big question is how much Boeing knew after the Lion Air Crash and why wasn’t more done to protect the travelling public? The cynic might venture that had the initial crash occurred in the US or Europe Boeings reaction may have been rather different. Garuda, the national carrier of Indonesia has suffered a number of air incidences over the years and the travelling public arguably fails to question losses in Asia in the same way it reacts to them in Europe and America .Were Boeing banking on this sentiment when they allowed their fleets to continue.?
The financial fallout
In the short- term, most of the financial fallout for Boeing will be caused by the airlines. Both in terms of them looking for financial recompense for their grounded planes, and from the cancellation of orders. Garuda has already cancelled its $6 billion order for 49 Boeing 737 MAX Jets, stating that passengers had lost trust in the plane.
Airlines with grounded fleets will have rising costs, over the busy summer months, and they will look to Boeing to recover these.
Arguably the much greater financial loss will occur in the litigation from relatives of the deceased passengers and crew.
Will Boeing be able to withstand this? Will the US Government allow Boeing to fail? Boeing Group is a top defence- contractor and the US’s largest exporter. It seems unimaginable that the government won’t protect them in some way.
This only the beginning of a very long drawn out process, but anything that happens to make air travel safer is scant reward for the bereaved families of the lost passengers and crew, who it now appears fought so bravely to recover their aircraft.
Quentin Anderson is Executive Chairman of the Transformative Consultant DVC Consultants.
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