Views from Kansas: Safety rules are not ‘red tape’

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

On the same day that newly released internal messages showed Boeing employees not only knew all about problems with the 737 Max but also actively hid those problems from regulators, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran visited a Boeing supplier in Wichita and said the urgent directive he’d take back to Washington with him is this: “The message is sooner rather than later, please get these planes flying.”

Wrong answer.

No one in the news business has to be told how scary layoffs are or why elected officials should by all means try to protect jobs. But shortcuts and lax regulation led to the deaths of 346 people in the two Boeing 737 Max planes that fell out of the sky, in October of 2018 in Indonesia and March of 2019 in Ethiopia. Three days after that second crash, the FAA was last in line to finally admit it wasn’t safe. We were last to ground the aircraft, and hurrying to lift that hold would only prove we haven’t even learned from this deadly debacle.

Naturally, aircraft parts makers in Kansas have been hurt by the grounding of the plane, with Wichita-based Spirit AeroSystems announcing that it will be laying off 2,800 employees, effective Jan. 22.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is considering — and should if at all possible — use the state’s fund for unemployment benefits to pay part of the salaries of those Spirit workers, so they can keep working.

But needless loss of life and loss of income are what happen when regulations are seen not as a protection but as pointless “red tape” — an obstacle to growth that should be done away with or gotten around whenever possible.

Emails and texts released last Thursday by congressional investigators show Boeing employees doing that — putting profits firmly ahead of safety even as they mocked those who had designed the aircraft. One Boeing employee said he wouldn’t let a relative of his fly on a 737 Max. Another wrote, “This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”

Before the planes are cleared for takeoff, we need to be confident that the “monkeys” have been replaced and the work of “clowns” made right.

Boeing said the messages “raise questions about Boeing’s interactions with the FAA” in approving flight-control software that is believed to have pushed down the planes’ noses.

Have those questions been fully answered?

Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, who serves on the House Transportation Committee and is vice chair of its aviation subcommittee, suggested in a statement that the answer is no: “The newly released messages from Boeing employees are incredibly disturbing and show a coordinated effort inside the company to deceive the American public and federal regulators, who are in place to keep passengers safe. It’s further proof that Boeing put profit over safety in the development of the 737 MAX.”

“… In addition to the public safety concerns these messages raise, Boeing’s callousness has now cost thousands of Kansans their livelihood and endangered the economy of our state, which is dependent on aerospace,” her statement said. “Kansas will continue to be an aerospace and technology leader, despite the harmful impacts of Boeing leadership’s reckless decision making.”

We hope that’s the case. And while we appreciate why the president of the Wichita-based 737 Max subcontractor Cox Machine, which Moran visited on Thursday, would tell the senator how anxious the company is to see the 737 Max flying again, speed should not be the priority.

Moran said he recently met with FAA officials to get an update and “again to ask them to make certain if there’s anything I can do, if there’s anything missing, appropriation, dollars, anything to get this process completed.”

Safely completed, that is. We need to know for sure that the 737 Max is a plane that Boeing employees would not hesitate to let their loved ones board.

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star


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