Episode 20: Boeing Down

In the twentieth episode of The Latest, the Boeing 737 Max remains grounded until it finishes its homework. Film & TV critic Bob Pantalone joins the program for this week’s O.J. Simpson Twitter Update.

The Latest with Greg Ott
The Latest with Greg Ott
Episode 20: Boeing Down


Those voices are discussing the Boeing 737 Max, the narrow-bodied plane whose tendency to drop from the sky makes the experience of air travel slightly more unpleasant than usual. Over the past year, accidents involving two 737 Max planes have killed 346 people, making the aircraft the leading cause of airborne disasters among flights not scheduled to depart from Iran. 

Entering air fleets in 2017, the Max was touted as a cost-saving upgrade of the Boeing 737, which was true — it’s a lot cheaper to operate a plane that will eventually no longer exist.

The major culprit of The 737 MAX’s problems is its Maneuvering Characteristsics Augmentation System, a piece of software intended make the aircraft’s operation similar to that of previous Boeing 737 models. But just like Samsung Galaxy 7, this flawed software was still likely to crash and eventually explode. 

That’s because Boeing dissuaded regulators from requiring pilots to be trained on these models using flight simulators, so the existence of this stabilization software was never revealed. It must have been buried under Settings > General > AirDrop.

While 737 MAX planes have been grounded since 2019, emails obtained by government investigators revealed that Boeing employees were aware of the aircraft’s obvious new flaw, like someone who went in for a face lift but neglected to wax the unibrow. 

“Designed by clowns,” “piss poor,” and “I still haven’t been forgiven by God” are among the comments made by Boeing staffers that live in the center of a Venn diagram between the 737 Max and Tom Hooper’s “Cats.”

In December, the CEO of Boeing was fired from his chief executive role and humiliated with stock options and other assets with about $80 million, or, to put it another way, about $231,000 for each victim who might have had an actual use for a golden parachute. 

It’s easy to blame Boeing for this disaster, so I will. But it’s also hard to ignore Boeing’s aversion to pesky government regulation.

Better regulations could have prevented the Flint water crisis, could address the ongoing misuse of user data on platforms like Facebook, or could have easily reduced the number of “Star Wars” films that come out every two years down to zero. 

And in this case, effective regulation could have ensured that Boeing didn’t cut corners to save a few bucks at the expense of hundreds of lives.

I don’t think the government is always bad, and in situations like this, I think they should be able to do their job, even if it means Boeing shareholders only return on investment is a plane that’s landed safely on the ground. 

But in an industry where passengers constantly get less for more, it wouldn’t shock me if my next basic economy fare doesn’t include altitude.