The airline manufacturing giant Boeing has been responsible for the loss of 246 lives in two horrific plane crashes over a span of just half a year. Lion Air Flight 610 which took off from Jakarta, Indonesia on Oct 29, 2018 crashed just 12 minutes later in the Java Sea killing all 189 passengers and crew while Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed near Bishoftu, Ethiopia six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, the capital, on Mar 10, 2019 killing all 157 people on board. The reasons for the crashes are now globally known and the evidence that has come to the surface is disturbing.
Boeing developed the 737 Max 8 to compete with Airbus. However, in an effort to cut costs, they compromised on crucial safety measures. The 737 Max 8 was a modification of the earlier 737 model and was touted to be more fuel-efficient with a new and larger engine installed higher up on the wings of the plane. In order to counterbalance the weight, an automated mechanism called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS was developed. This mechanism pushes down the nose of the plane in order to prevent stalling. It is evident that the mechanism was dangerous and lacked full testing since it has been proven to be the cause of both crashes. This mechanism was not present in the earlier Boeing 737 model and yet pilots were not trained on how to override the sensors. They were not even aware of the presence of the system! The regulating body, the Federation of Aviation and Administration (FAA) was in cahoots with Boeing and gave the go-ahead for pilots to fly the plane without thorough retraining and saved Boeing huge amounts of money. What is even more tragic is that even the written guide that was developed by United Airlines did not mention the MCAS.
These disastrous events clearly show that aviation giants are allowed to make profits without compunction. All paths are made smooth for them, be it finding new ways to skimp on training, focus on fuel efficiency and neglect basic safety training, and even to repeat tragedies as was seen when Boeing fleets were allowed to fly even after the first Lion Air crash.
The situation is grim even in India. It ranked below Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and North Korea in the Asia-Pacific in a 2017 aviation-safety audit. The audit was conducted by the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and found that India ranked even lower than its previous score and is one of 15 countries below minimum target rates. One of the main reasons for this unacceptably low score is the sidelining of regulation as seen in the well-known ineffectiveness of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The DGCA is a regulatory body in name but is usually ignored. Thus, the Indian aviation industry too lacks a standard and rigorous regulatory mechanism that will monitor and rein in dangerous cost-cutting measures taken by private airlines to boost their profits at the expense of passengers’ lives. Events around the world show that aviation companies flout safety rules without fear and governments too allow them to do so in an anti-people way. As paying customers of these airlines, people must come together and demand that regulatory systems be set up and reinforced with regular reporting to the public about auditing outcomes. The victims’ families must also be given proper compensation and lastly, the heads of these companies must be punished with imprisonment and severe fines. The only way to bring about such changes is for people to unite and voice their demands for the right to safe transportation!