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Plenty of blame to go around for 737 MAX’s lack of safety features


As the controversy surrounding Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane continues, Seattle’s Morning News spoke with Teal Group Vice President and aviation expert Richard Aboulafia to go over why key safety features were skimped on.

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The New York Times reported that the Boeing 737 MAX jets involved in a pair of fatal crashes in the last five months both lacked “two notable safety features” that — before Thursday — Boeing charged extra for.

And while Boeing has quickly reversed course, it paints a picture of an industry designed to allow that oversight in the first place.

“From the standpoint of the manufacturer, you’ve got the situation where the FAA didn’t mandate it, no one else mandated it, and in the broader context of prices for jets … they figured that the only way to make that dynamic good was to charge for everything that wasn’t absolutely mandatory,” Aboulafia told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

It wasn’t long after the Times’ report that news started leaking out about how Boeing and regulators were working together to standardize a feature that alerts pilots of faulty information from key sensors.

According to an Associated Press report, that change is being rushed to completion by as early as next week.

As for why corners were cut in the first place, Aboulafia attributes that to the sterling safety record the aviation industry has boasted over the last 10 years.

“You look at the entire U.S. air transport system, and we had just gone an entire decade with one single casualty,” said Aboulafia. The crash of Southwest Flight 1380 in April 2018 marked the first fatal airline incident in the country since 2009.

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That safety record could very well have had the industry getting a little too comfortable, though.

“It could be that because of the incredible safety record over the past decade, that maybe we got a bit complacent,” he continued.

That said, it’s tough to lay the blame at any one party’s feet, with Aboulafia noting that many airlines — like the ones involved in these two recent crashes — purchase planes with one goal in mind, and that’s to get “the simplest, basic, cheapest jet” available.

“It’s just not Boeing — it’s also the regulators, it’s the customers, it’s everybody saying ‘when in doubt, let’s make it cheap,'” he noted.

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