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An Open Letter to Boeing: Put Passengers First, Ground the 737 MAX 8 Now!

I called Boeing’s office in Washington, D.C. about the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, with over 300 fatalities, to give them some advice. They were too busy to call back, so I’m conveying some measures they should take fast in this open letter.

Dear Boeing Executives:

You don’t seem to see the writing on the Wall. Your Boeing 737 MAX 8 is being grounded by more and more countries and foreign airlines. Airline passengers in the U.S. are switching away their reservations on this plane and there are signs of an organized boycott of this aircraft which is used by the major U.S. airlines.

It is only a matter of time before the bereaved families organize, before members of Congress start forcefully speaking out, as Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal just did. Both Senators are on the Senate’s Aviation Subcommittee.

Soon the technical dissenters in the reported “heated discussions” with FAA, the airline industry, the pilot unions and your company will see some internal e-mails, memos, and whistleblowers go public. Technical dissent cannot be repressed indefinitely.

Your own lawyers should be counselling you that Boeing is on public notice and that, heaven forbid, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash in this country, the arrogance of your algorithms overpowering the pilots, can move law enforcement to investigate potential personal criminal negligence.

Clearly, you run a company used to having its way. Used to having a patsy FAA, with its “tombstone mentality,” used to delaying airworthiness directives that should be put out immediately, and not diluted and delayed, used to getting free government R&D and used to avoiding state and federal taxes.

Stop digging in your heels. Tell the airlines to stop digging in their heels. Public trust in your Boeing 737 MAX 8 is eroding fast. Get ahead of the curve that is surely heading your way.

You see the Boeing 737 MAX 8 as being a large part of your passenger aircraft business. You’ve delivered over 300 planes and reportedly have over 3000 orders. Over the years, your engineers have solved many technical problems brilliantly. The domestic safety record of the major airlines, using your equipment, has been very commendable for more than a decade. A lot of the credit goes to Boeing as well as to the airline pilots, flight attendants, traffic controllers, and mechanics.

But there is always a time when commercial dictates and a rush to get ahead of Airbus result in too many corners being cut. There is always a time when the proverbial rubber band, being stretched suddenly snaps. This aircraft is not an old DC-9 being phased out. The stakes involved in your erring on the side of safety and letting your engineers exercise their “options for revision,” affect the future of a good part of Boeing.

Tell the U.S. airlines and other recalcitrant airlines overseas to ground their 737 MAX 8 planes and then you do what is necessary to restore the engineering integrity of your company. You did this before with the Boeing 787 in 2013.

Once an aircraft starts to carry a stigma in the minds of passengers, time is of the essence. You know all about branding’s pluses and minuses. It is better to act now before being forced to act, whether by Congress, the FAA, a prosecution or another aircraft disaster that could have been avoided.

For safety,
Ralph Nader
Co-author of Collision Course: The Truth About Airline Safety

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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