The Boeing 737 MAX Crashes: Victims On Both Ends

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737 MAXs parked at Moses Lake in waiting before they can be delivered to their customers.

Gabrielle Ott, Editor

The devastating Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people has left the world of aviation changed. Investigations, memorials, and resignations have been the center of attention for newspapers to write about as more of this story unfolds. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has grounded the planes until deemed safe to fly again. This act has been taken well by the public, the airlines, and the Boeing community as it will confirm the safety of this airplane. But as the safety checks continue and new tests being created every day, it leaves some to wonder if this plane will ever return to service. This also puts pressure on Boeing as a company and its employees, as well as the families of them. This article tries to go deeper into how these crashes have impacted the Boeing community and how it will end.

October 29th, 2018- Moments after taking off at an airport in Indonesia, a Lion Air flight with 189 passengers crashes into the sea. None survive. Five months later on March 10th, 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashes, killing all 157 passengers. Between the two crashes, a total of 346 people died. At first, these two tragedies may not appear to have a connection. But shortly after the second crash, investigators immediately realize that the two planes are both the Boeing 737 MAX. Investigations arose, questioning the overall design and safety of the plane. For example, Lion Air claimed that the sensor on the 737 MAX- designed to give pilots and the airplane system information about how the airplane’s nose and the incoming wind related to each other- was faulty and did not give the pilots or the plane accurate information. The airline claimed that this was one of the contributing factors to the crash, among other things. Another incident occurred when Boeing fixed the sensor problem, but during testing FAA test pilots found another problem that they say affected their ability to recover from a runaway stabilizer. The result of this is continuous grounding of the plane with over 200 brand new 737’s parked at Moses Lake in Eastern Washington waiting to be cleared to fly again.

With all of these investigations and safety checks in mind, it’s time to factor in the effect on the Boeing community. Obviously, employees feel concerns with everything happening here at their company and sympathy for those affected by the crash. But concerns should also be given to their own lives and families. They have to wonder about their own job security and the company overall.  Boeing’s financial condition has been impacted by the issue and they are having to borrow billions to keep production running. Recently, the FAA pushed out the return date for these planes to fly again, and Boeing has announced that they will be temporarily suspending production in their Renton location where the airplanes are built.  Currently, Boeing makes about 40 new 737 MAX’s every month where they are all then put into storage. With the shutdown at Renton, Boeing says that they hope to move about 12,000 employees to their other locations, but no employees will be laid off.

Another element of the aftermath of these crashes is how the media and public are responding to every detail that comes up. A stereotypical media can sometimes be known to exaggerate the facts and paint a picture of their subject into some sort of monster. For these incidents, it’s a goldmine for details that newspapers can write. But it seems to be that they are bringing up lots of unnecessary information and topics related to Boeing that aren’t even related to the airplane itself. For example, I saw on the Seattle Times a title that read, “Boeing Faces a Key Test of its Spacecraft Designed to Fly NASA’s Astronauts.” This may be an important article but as I read deeper into the paper the author kept referencing the 737 MAX. To me, this seemed like an unneeded part of the article, designed only to highlight Boeing’s mistakes. Which leads me to another crucial part of this future success for the company; the reaction of the public. With social media, it’s very easy to spread information with people all over the world. This can be a very useful and positive perk to public networking platforms, but can also increase the rise of rumors spread. Not many rumors about Boeing have been told, but social media is still sharing tons of new information that arises. Another part of the public’s reaction is when the plane does return to service, will people feel safe enough to fly on it?

Jen Collet, a woman with aerospace in her family told the Seattle Times, “But I probably won’t fly on the MAX. If they’re doing all these extra checks, I would think it should be safe. But before I fly, I’ll probably check the airplane, and I definitely would avoid it.” This seems to be a similar view with many passengers, with flight attendants saying they begged not to be placed on a 737 MAX, even though the FAA will only allow the plane to fly when it is 100% ready. But in a video interview made by Boeing, Jennifer Henderson, a chief pilot with Boeing said, “When the 737 MAX returns to service, I would absolutely put my family on this airplane.” Boeing really depends on passengers to fly with them again, it seems to be the entire fate of the company.

Boeing has set up an information site that gives updates and details on the plane and includes interviews with some key employees at the company. After watching a few of these interviews, I could tell that those that work for Boeing are very committed to making safety one of their top priorities.

One of these interviews was by Captain Todd White, one of the pilots at Boeing. He said,”When we first heard about the accidents it affected us deeply and personally. What encourages me is the response that I see across the board.” Another interview was by Jim Webb, a chief test pilot for Boeing. He had a similar view on the safety here, saying,”I take safety in aviation extremely personally because we know that it could be our own families that are going to be on those planes.”

These two quotes show that Boeing really is taking this problem to heart, and doing everything in their power to make things right. I interviewed an anonymous employee for Boeing on what views they have on the crashes and the affect of them.

Q: How did you feel when you first heard about the 737 MAX crashes?

A: I was sad for all of the passengers and all their families and friends. I was also very interested to understand what caused the airplanes to crash.

Q: Do these crashes seem to affect the morale of your work space at work?

A: Yes, because everyone’s sad for the lost lives and everybody wants to quickly know what caused them so that nothing happens again. But morale is still high because everybody knows we build a great product and whatever happened will be resolved.

Q: How do you feel about all that the media and general public are saying?

A: I can’t control what the media or general public writes or says, but think it is important that they understand that safety and quality are the most important considerations in every one of our products and everything we do.

Q:  How do you think the public will react to the plane when it is finally cleared to fly again?

A: I think because of all the testing and media reporting on every little detail, the public will feel confident right from the start and this will only grow as the airplane rebuilds the trust of the public.

Q: What is your view about the future of Boeing?

A: I think we have very bright and positive future because of the quality of our people and products, the growing world economy, and because our products change the world for the better whether it be for travelling or for defending our country or for exploring space.

To wrap things up, Boeing has had some problems that have seemed to have negatively impacted their reputation. Boeing is working very hard to fix their mistakes and gain back the trust of the public. Hopefully, we will see this airplane flying again soon with happy passengers. I wish the best for all of those affected by the crashes and to see the end of this tragedy soon.

Chicago Tribune. “Timeline: Boeing 737 Max Jetliner Crashes and Aftermath.” Chicagotribune.com, 14 Oct. 2019, www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-viz-boeing-737-max-crash-timeline-04022019-story.html.

Schaper, David. “FAA Finds New Problem With 737 Max Jets, Delaying Their Return To Flight.” NPR, NPR, 27 June 2019, www.npr.org/2019/06/26/736430419/faa-finds-new-problem-with-737-max-jets-delaying-their-return-to-flight.

“What’s New.” Boeing 737 MAX Updates, www.boeing.com/737-max-updates/.

Kamb, Lewis, et al. “As Boeing’s 737 MAX Nears a Return to Service, Will Flyers Return to It?” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 21 Nov. 2019, www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/as-boeings-737-max-nears-a-return-to-service-will-flyers-return-to-it/.

Picture credit: Mike Siegel- The Seattle Times