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EDITORIAL: Boeing 737 Max — ready for takeoff?

A Boeing 737 Max sits on a runway. — Reuters file photo

Controversial jet an example of why regulation matters

Wednesday marked the sixth time that American Airlines pushed back putting its Boeing 737 Max aircraft back in service. The airline is now saying it will start returning the aircraft to service after Jan. 16, 2020.

And if past experience holds true, other airlines will follow suit.

Past experience. What a concept.

The 737 Max was taken out of service in a rush worldwide after two crashes, one in Indonesia and one in Ethiopia, killed 346 people. The crashes were connected to faulty flight control software that pilots on the doomed flights tried, but failed, to override.

There has been plenty written about the cause of the two crashes, but it centres around the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The 737 Max has jets that are larger and further forward on the wings; that left the aircraft more likely to pitch its nose upwards and stall, so Boeing installed MCAS to take over from pilots and push the nose of the aircraft down. The problem was, if sensors gave the wrong information to MCAS, the system could push the nose of the aircraft essentially all the way to the ground.

As the Seattle Times pointed out, there was a rush to get the new aircraft certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — a push that saw FAA engineers charge that they were pressed by their superiors to re-evaluate problems they’d found with the new aircraft, and to hand over aspects of the independent review to Boeing employees.

But the main driver behind the story is that Boeing wanted to bring a new, fuel-efficient jet into production to compete with a fuel-saving aircraft from rival Airbus, and Boeing needed it fast.

As the Seattle Times pointed out, there was a rush to get the new aircraft certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — a push that saw FAA engineers charge that they were pressed by their superiors to re-evaluate problems they’d found with the new aircraft, and to hand over aspects of the independent review to Boeing employees.

So, back to past experience.

After an E. coli-contaminated water system killed six people and sickened more than 2,000 others in 2000 in Walkerton, Ont., you’d think Canadians would be well aware of the dangers of cutting back on, and/or privatizing, government oversight and regulation.

But no — it seems to be a lesson we have to learn over and over again.

One of the most regular complaints you hear around election-time — besides the ever-popular “I’m paying too much in tax,” often uttered without any sort of comprehension about what government services cost — is the refrain that there’s too much red tape, too much regulation, and that companies should be able to regulate their own operations.

The way the logic goes is that no one knows a company’s operations — both the benefits and the dangers — better than the company itself. And that, in this day and age, companies know better than to risk lives for something as tawdry as money.

Yet, time and time again…

As the old saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine.

Regulation in time saves lives.

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