Despite the solemnity of the situation, it seems borderline ridiculous at first: Boeing used a door plug to seal an optional emergency exit and it fell off mid-flight. Fortunately, no one on the January 5th Alaska Airlines flight 1282 perished. The strange situation, which occurred in the midst of growing skepticism regarding the reliability of Boeing planes, re-opens an old can of worms revolving around the perceived over-generous protection which the US government offers for America’s flagship passenger airplane manufacturer.
The US government has historically supported Boeing in its export ventures globally. In the largest recorded deal for airplanes in world history, former president Barack Obama famously orchestrated a sale of 230 Boeing jets to Indonesia’s Lion Air. Following the same pro-Boeing mindset, former president Donald Trump not only facilitated the sale of numerous planes to countries in Southeast Asia, but also delayed the grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after deadly crashes during Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. The decision to finally follow other world leaders in banning the aircraft came only after intense domestic scrutiny and the revelation that America was the only country the faulty planes were continuing to fly over. Governing as his predecessors had, president Biden continued to serve in the interests of Boeing by selling over 40 jets to Vietnam late last year.
It should be noted that Boeing does have significant campaign contributions and lobbying connections in Washington. Nevertheless, even absent its congressional ground game, Boeing still wields tremendous influence due to its unique position as cornerstone to American prosperity and a foreign policy bargaining chip.
Granted, it is true that Boeing is a pinnacle of the US economy. Both with its crucial military components and civilian passenger airplanes, Boeing exemplifies the best of American engineering and industry. Yet, the corporation’s dominance over the airplane industry and duopoly with European competitor Airbus should not deter policymakers from leveling regulations when they are needed. Investigations into the numerous incidents conclude that the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) has broadly relaxed regulations and enforcement for Boeing. Allegations include relegating the majority of inspection to Boeing personnel, sending incompetent or inexperienced regulators to review presentations, and generally unsafe company culture. The government’s stance as a supporter of Boeing is understandable but does not make it blameless for the quality control issues the company has faced.
In order to improve American image abroad and more importantly guarantee passenger safety worldwide, the US government and Boeing ought to ensure that Boeing is held to the same standards any other American company would be and that all of the necessary safety precautions are followed at the highest level.