Home » Boeing Screwed Up Big Time, But Not Every Aviation Incident Is Boeing’s Fault

Boeing Screwed Up Big Time, But Not Every Aviation Incident Is Boeing’s Fault

Boeing Southwest
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Oh no. It’s happened again. Something fell off a Boeing airliner! This has to be a big problem for the Seattle manufacturer, right? Another disaster!

Whoa there, turbo—cool your jets. I’m here to tell you that it’s not that simple. Boeing has some serious issues right now, but media hype is starting to distort the picture. Let’s talk about what’s really going on.

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The latest incident to hit the news is an engine cover tearing off a Southwest Boeing 737, as covered by the New York Post. Some outlets would have you thinking this is another slam dunk against Boeing. News.com.au even ran the story under the headline “Video shows big new problem for Boeing” to further feed the hysteria. But let’s get real.

Conflation

Real talk—Boeing has had some major incidents in recent years. The MCAS system on the Boeing 737 MAX had serious problems that led to crashes costing hundreds of lives. The recent Alaska Airlines flight that recently lost a door plug thanks to missing fasteners was another embarrassing incident. It was another strike against the company.

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But both of these incidents had something in common. Boeing was at fault. In the case of the MCAS system, the root of the problem was in Boeing’s engineering decisions. As for the Alaska Airlines flight, it’s believed the aircraft left the manufacturer in unsatisfactory condition.

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The recent incident was unpleasant, but thankfully nobody was harmed and the plane landed safely.

In contrast, the Southwest incident can’t be laid at Boeing’s door so easily. The plane in question had been in service since 2017. For much of its life since then, the plane has likely been the responsibility of Southwest Airlines maintenance crews. In those circumstances, the responsibility for any failure becomes more complex.

Realistically, most mature 737s aren’t losing engine covers on takeoff. For a plane that has been in service for multiple years, responsibility for a failure like this is perhaps more likely to lie at the feet of the operator. Perhaps a Boeing crew directly fitted the engine cover to the Southwest flight, but at this point in its life, it’s far more likely that the airline’s own maintenance team, or a contractor, are the ones working on the plane.

It is, of course, possible for later failures to be the fault of the original manufacturer. If the aircraft had recently been back to the manufacturer for service, then Boeing could of course have played a role. Similarly, if a part fails due to manufacturing issues, there’s something to be said. But it shouldn’t be assumed just because Boeing originally built the plane. Proper investigation from the FAA, NTSB, or other authorities will reveal the truth.

Think of it this way. If you buy a brand-new Toyota Corolla and the engine seizes three months into ownership, then it’s almost certainly Toyota’s mistake. If you buy a used Corolla from five years ago, and then a further three years on, it dies, then the issue is more complex. You or the previous owner might have skipped some important maintenance, or it could still be down to some long-lurking manufacturing fault from Toyota itself.

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If a wheel falls off an airliner after years in service, finding the responsible party is more complicated.

This rule should be applied to other incidents, too. The simple reality is that thousands upon thousands of flights take place every day, many using Boeing aircraft. A shockingly small number of those flights will experience technical issues, most of which are minor. Because of the current media focus on the company right now, it’s big news every time a Boeing plane pops a tire or loses a wheel. These incidents are dangerous and need to be eliminated wherever possible. But they’re not all Boeing’s fault. Indeed, a great many come down to airline maintenance practices or operator mistakes.

Right now, it’s not possible to apportion blame to Boeing for the Southwest incident—or most others, for that matter. Determining culpability is the job of Federal agencies, not the media. It’s poor practice to use the current hype to generate unnecessary fear or confusion around Boeing aircraft. Indeed, many of these articles are simply written because there’s a thirst for stories on Boeing right now—never mind the narrative the torrent of stories implies. Ask yourself this: Did you hear about the Airbus jet with an engine issue two days ago?

[Mercedes’ Note: We’re understating how many times an Airbus aircraft has some sort of incident. If you follow the Aviation Herald as I do you’ll find that both Airbus and Boeing planes encounter issues nearly daily. And these issues sound serious from the loss of a hydraulic system, cabin smoke, or engine failure.

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Yet, you don’t really hear when a 20-year-old Airbus A320 loses a part. It wouldn’t be hard to just write about Airbus failures and make it seem as though the Airbus A320 is the Yugo of the sky.

What you’re seeing is not really a sudden rise of Boeing planes falling apart, but some media outlets watching for anything to write about Boeing aircraft, regardless if it has anything to do with Boeing or not. The incidents you see have been happening for far longer than some outlets have been paying attention. 

For another example, unruly passengers are still all over the news. Based on the number of stories, you’d think that people being jerks in the sky is still a growing problem. The reality is that unruly passenger incidents have decreased to under pre-pandemic levels.

If anything, the stories you are seeing are somewhat demonstrations of how sturdy commercial airliners are. You can lose an engine cowling, a body panel, a door plug, or a slat, and people still get on the ground safely.

Boeing absolutely deserves the scrutiny right now, especially in light of what happened with the whistleblower, but not every failure is entirely Boeing’s fault. Remember, American Airlines Flight 191, the most deadly singular crash on U.S. soil, was caused primarily by improper maintenance by the airline. – MS]

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Ultimately, there are plenty of reasons why Boeing needs to up its game and, hopefully, this media bruising will be a reminder of what happens when companies sacrifice their historic name and engineering prowess for a few quarters of share price growth.

Safety in air travel needs to be paramount, and the company seems to have swapped a priority for engineering aircraft into engineering profits. Regardless, that’s no excuse to go raving about the manufacturer every time a minor technical issue occurs in routine airline operations. Stay smart out there, and don’t believe the hype.

Image credits: Top Shot – Samantha Gades via Unsplash License, Sam Sweeney via Twitter Screenshot

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EricTheViking
EricTheViking
1 month ago

Perhaps this is attributed to the deferred maintenance due to the severe shortage of technicians…

i3 Driving Indicator Fetishist
i3 Driving Indicator Fetishist
1 month ago

THANK YOU!! I’ve been yelling this at my TV for these incidents… these are maintenance issues!

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
1 month ago

Is this targeted as an anti-Jalopnik post? Because this is an anti-Jalopnik post. Keep up the good work!

Cayde-6
Cayde-6
1 month ago

As I pointed out elsewhere, the US airline industry is short-staffed by around 15,000 mechanics (estimates put it between 12,000 and 18,000), with a total employment of 306,000. This deficit is also expected to more than double in the next few years.

These incidences will become more and more common.

LTDScott
LTDScott
1 month ago

I agree with all of this and am glad someone in the media is being reasonable about it. Problems need to be investigated and Boeing’s corporate culture seems to be pretty poor leading to some of these issues, but there is definitely a lot of sensationalism. If you’re just now claiming “if it’s Boeing, I’m not going,” you’ve fallen into the media trap.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago

Boeing is the Nissan Altima of the sky.

FIFY

Checkyourbeesfordrinks
Checkyourbeesfordrinks
1 month ago

the Airbus A320 is the Yugo of the sky.

But can you fix an Airbus A320 with a rock and a hose clamp? Yugo for the win.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago

You just have to make sure you are using a metric rock.

James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago

I wouldn’t concern myself about flying in either a Boeing or an Airbus jet unless it was maintained and operated by a Russian operator..

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago
Reply to  James Carson

Is United Russian? It wouldn’t surprise me based on their attitude towards customer service…

James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago

You do have a point there United customer disservice is legendary. I was more concerned about the aircraft maintenance.

Greg
Greg
1 month ago

Funny enough, while its 100% two separate companies, and two seperate issues (construction vs maintenance) its 100% for the same fucking reason.

BOTH of these companies had amazing leaderships when most of our readers were growing up and grew into trusty household names. Boeing obviously for longer.

BUT, they BOTH hired assholes from consulting companies basically rather than the engineers or airline insiders they should have in order to drive MORE PROFIT AT ANY COST.

The cost is our lives, our safety and our trust in anything we used to trust without any second thoughts. But they got rich, so fuck us right?

Last edited 1 month ago by Greg
Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg

It’s just dumb business practice too though. I’m sure all this bad press and lawsuits has cost Boening a lot more than whatever they gained by squeezing a plane out a few days earlier than it should have been.

I’ve heard it’s managers from McDonnell Douglas since the merger that are the real idiots

Last edited 1 month ago by Chartreuse Bison
Beater_civic
Beater_civic
1 month ago

But the bonuses to the managers have already been paid, and there will always be more greedy boards of directors to hire them. Possibly even the same directors, having sold their stock immediately before the shitstorm and skipped town.

The purpose is to enrich the shareholders, not the company.

Cayde-6
Cayde-6
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg

Is it? Or is this incident due to the fact that the US airline industry is short-staffed by around ~15,000 mechanics?

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
1 month ago

This isn’t a Boeing Design, or a Boeing maintenance issue ( at least not yet I suppose ) This seems like a southwest issue. I follow one of those aviation ATC recording youtube channels and it is almost like 6 of every 10 are Southwest issues returning to the airport. I saw this and rolled my eyes knowing everyone was going to be up in arms about Boeing for no good reason on this one.

James Wallace
James Wallace
1 month ago

Well, yes there is a laser like focus in the press on Boeing products. There are problems on all varieties of aircraft. I am a professional aviation consultant and certified accident investigator. You want to get real worried, look into the issue on Airbus 320 NEO models. The P&W engine is experiencing cracks in the PW1100GTF engines. Two of the engines major disks are developing cracks at an accelerated rate that will result in 500-600 of them being grounded by next year, nearly half the fleet! Yet those aircraft with a known problem is being allowed to operate by European regulators with engines that could cast off major chunks of the engines. These chunks are large enough to penetrate the containment ring and pass easily through the aircraft cabin. This causes rapid decompression and a potential for major injuries and death as they pass through the cabin. Makes a door plug coming off look like a welcome outcome. Yet the press seems to completely ignore this even though in the aviation world we are in hysterics. Then there is the criminal software issues of the Airbus 330. I say criminal as Airbus was criminally charged in the crash off Brazil of an Air France flight. The software still has not been corrected! The aircraft will still be able to fly, in spite of a major engineering fault in the basic design of the software. European regulators strike again.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
1 month ago

Permit me this indulgence, a copy-paste of my comment from an article about Starliner on Ars Technica:

(some things about Starliner)

>
I was going to say, especially after the “seven years late” line, that I’m fucking sick of Boeing. I’m not close to aerospace, and only briefly touched aero at all – remind me to tell you the story about the automated test execution suite written in Excel – but that comment is much more thoughtful, insightful, and informed.

The carcass of what Boeing used to be is finally starting to stink, though there are 346 people for whom it’s too late. The QA/QC failures, the overruns and government teat-sucking, the regulatory capture (am I using that right? or is it more like the captured regulation?) where Boeing pinky promises a 30-minute video for pilots on MCAS means no way we need to recertify and the FAA rubber stamps it, then comes back around for the stern tut-tutting that will surely show them the error of their ways after people die as a result.

The regular news is definitely latching on to everything involving a Boeing plane as Boeing’s fault, which is a mischaracterization as airlines need to look after their planes. That said, there are many root causes that trace either directly or by one degree of separation right back to Boeing.

While I wish the Starliner crew a safe mission, I’d also be updating the shit out of my wills and final documents about now. The way things have gone lately so should anyone in the flight path of this mission.
>

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
1 month ago

Ask William Shatner (or John Lithgow). They’ll tell you what REALLY happened to that plane.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Doo do do doo
Doo do do doo
Doo do do doo
Doo do do doo

Beater_civic
Beater_civic
1 month ago

Part of the reason that this is happening though is that Boeing has so thoroughly destroyed whatever credibility they had in the past few years with their responses to these incidents. After the two MCAS crashes I remember a lot of stories appearing in my news feed about how the pilots were under-trained – y’know, because they were furriners – and when you combine that with their CEO who specifically promised to fix these problems now preparing to resign, it gets really difficult to trust anything they do.

Most people have had experience with incompetent, assholic, or just plain evil managers, whatever their line of work. It’s cathartic to call out the same faults in organizations that are supposed to be guided by professionalism, because it feels like you can clearly demonstrate the consequences of idiotic management.

Maybe that’s giving some people too much credit and they really do think that every 737 is a ticking time bomb. But I know the reason I care is that in some weird way, I feel vindicated for my frustration every time I was ordered to do something dumb or potentially dangerous at work.

PajeroPilot
PajeroPilot
1 month ago

We shouldn’t speculate and we shouldn’t draw conclusions from comments sections on websites. However… the comments on the Aviation Herald speculate that the engine cowling might not have been latched close by maintenance crews.

If this were the case, to use Lewin’s Corolla analogy, blaming Boeing for this is like blaming Toyota if your bonnet blew off as you drove down the freeway because you forgot to latch it.

Mick Molte
Mick Molte
1 month ago

“In the case of the MCAS system, the root of the problem was in Boeing’s engineering decisions.”

No. No no no no no. The root problem was in Boeing’s MANAGEMENT decisions. It wasn’t the engineers insisting that pilots not have to go through any flight simulator time to fly the new planes.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 month ago
Reply to  Mick Molte

There was even internal disagreement within Boeing over whether MCAS was even needed for that, the handling characteristics of the 737 Max without MCAS are still more similar to the 737 Next Generation than the 757 is to the 767, but the FAA accepted a common type rating for those two. Boeing moved forward with the system based on some very preliminary feedback from early flight tests and decided against considering any other option

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
1 month ago
Reply to  Mick Molte

Yes yes yes thank you yes thank you for saying this.

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Mick Molte

That’s actually why, even though I fully understand that most of the “part falls-off/fails on Boeing 737-XXX” incidents are owner/operator maintenance, I don’t really have a problem with Boeing being smeared. Bad PR and the subsequent stock value hits are the closest thing to accountability most of those assholes in management will ever face for the terrible things they actually are responsible for…

Last edited 1 month ago by Jason Smith
Cayde-6
Cayde-6
1 month ago
Reply to  Mick Molte

 It wasn’t the engineers insisting that pilots not have to go through any flight simulator time to fly the new planes.

You’re right and you are wrong. In fact, it was Southwest Airlines who told Boeing that they would not purchase the Max 8 if it involved pilot retraining

Mick Molte
Mick Molte
1 month ago
Reply to  Cayde-6

If you want to be pedantic about it, Southwest didn’t say they wouldn’t purchase the planes, they said they’d need Boeing to knock a million dollars off per plane for their troubles. It’s literally in the purchase contract.

Regulatory capture vis a vis the FAA and self certification, and also not wanting to publish anything in flight manuals that might raise concerns about the need for pilot training both also played a role. The point here is that there’s plenty of blame to go around, none of which should be laid at the feet of the engineers as was stated in the article.

Jacob Rippey
Jacob Rippey
1 month ago

THANK YOU! The media has been driving me nuts as of late with the Boeing this, Boeing that when something that is maintenance related occurs. Yet, when it’s an Airbus, etc., the news says “aircraft” instead of the manufacturer.

TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
1 month ago

Look, Boeing is my vessel for my rage of what capitalism does to industries, and I will NOT have you extinguish that flame with your logic and reasoning!

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 month ago

If it’s Boeing I’m not going

Alexk98
Alexk98
1 month ago

And similarly, If its Boeing, You’re not whistleblowing

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
1 month ago

And for the manual transmission plane enthusiasts: “if I’m not rowing, I’m not going.”

Uberscrub
Uberscrub
1 month ago

I’m not as concerned about panels falling off planes as I am the death of whistleblowers

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
1 month ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Epstein Barnett didn’t kill himself

Uberscrub
Uberscrub
1 month ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Somehow? You literally just wrote an article about what issues we should or should not be concerned about with Boeing, to me this is the biggest thing to be concerned about.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
1 month ago

It’s remarkable how quickly the “shareholders first” approach has trashed Boeing’s reputation. Too bad Lockheed abandoned the civil aviation market after their superb L-1011 lost the sales war to the cheap sloppy parts bin special DC-10.

Lincoln Clown CaR
Lincoln Clown CaR
1 month ago

Not coincidentally, the cheap sloppy parts bin people are the ones that ended up in charge of Boeing after Boeing bought out McDonnell Douglas.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
1 month ago

It’s like if the Borg assimilated a race of shitty aliens who made their entire collective worse.

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
1 month ago

I forget who said it, but once I heard “it’s like McDonnell Douglas bought Boeing with Boeing’s money.”

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
1 month ago

I would do unspeakable things to bring back the L-1011. One of my favorite jets to fly on.

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
1 month ago
Reply to  Baron Usurper

Hell, I’d do unspeakable things to bring back the L-1011 just so I could ride on one for the first time!

Thatmiataguy
Thatmiataguy
1 month ago

This x100.

Ironically, I believe neither the L-1011 or the DC-10 were able to turn a profit; they split the market in half and neither sold enough planes to recoup their R&D.

If only Rolls-Royce hadn’t had delays making engines for the L-1011. Maybe the L-1011 would have captured more sales, turned a profit, stayed in the civil aviation market, and then we’d have something better than this duopoly between Boeing and Airbus.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 month ago

Yeah, the media has been seizing on this stuff, because everybody knows Boeing is an incompetent company that can’t deliver anything on time and on budget and will half-ass what they do turn in. But, there’s been a recent fad of these parts fall off stories, and I alway skim through to the part where it finally states the age of the plane – United Airlines had a wheel fall off a 777 that was like 20 years old, a panel fall off a 737NG that was 26 years old, and a fuel leak in another 777 that was around 20 years old, all of which says more about United’s maintenance department, if anything, than it does about Boeing, since all of that stuff is going to be touched multiple times over decades in service after leaving the factory.

Weirdly, the press seemed to put more blame on Alaska Airlines for the door plug incident, when that was very clearly Boeing’s fault primarily (though Alaska really should have taken the plane out of service for inspection when they first started getting weird pressure readings), but seems to have no issue blaming Boeing for stuff happening on older planes that clearly aren’t their doing so long after leaving the plant.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ranwhenparked
StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 month ago

You get out of here with your reason and thoughtfulness! This is the internet!! Cat video and outrage!!

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 month ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

You know who else blamed Boeing every time something fell off one of their planes? Hitler.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 month ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Well, the B-17 did cause a lot of parts to fall off of German planes.

Last edited 1 month ago by Mike Harrell
SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

To be fair it went both ways.

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