Boeing was recently charged to have conspired to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration in the case of the B737 MAX. $2.5 billion later, the charge has been resolved but the stain on the manufacturer remains – and rightly so.
The legal settlement with the Department of Justice requires Boeing to pay a fine, a compensation to its airline customers and to establish a $500 million crash-victim beneficiaries fund to compensate relatives of the 346 victims.
My question is if this legal settlement is enough to restore the confidence of the flying public and the aviation professionals in the air transport system?
Boeing’s faults and missteps are undeniably grave. But we can hardly forget that Boeing is not alone in this case. The credibility of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – as a safety regulator of one of the largest aviation nations – has been severely put at stake too.
Other aviation authorities were also questioned about the “automatic” aircraft certification processes and the existing controls to verify that an aircraft certified by another authority has fulfilled all safety expectations.
Is it enough to restore the confidence of the flying public and the aviation professionals in the air transport system?
When commercial pressure overrides safety and the system allows an organization to cheat its way through the regulation or play with loopholes, the problem is difficult to solve. The solution requires a deep change of mentality, a change in the culture of certain organizations that put profits before safety. And a powerful, unequivocal response from authorities is also an absolute must.
At least we have witnessed that EASA has acted in this case as a responsible regulator, scrutinising every aspect of the B737 MAX to make sure that the aircraft is safe to fly again. It is commendable the way the EASA experts – flight test pilots, training and certification experts, etc. – have done their job.
The even better news is that we have a regulation in Europe that – at least in theory – copes with those ‘socio-economic’ issues that may affect safety of air operations. Article 89 of EU Regulation 2018/1139 is intended to provide the European authorities with an instrument to monitor the safety of certain organisations that may prioritise economic results to safety. And to act before it is too late.
One thing is clear: the money settlement will resolve some of Boeing’s legal problems. But trust can eventually only be bought with actions – both by an organsiation and by a safety regulator.
by Juan Carlos Lozano, ECA Vice-President
Airbus A320 Captain Iberia