What follows contains musings, questions and speculation. It was proofread by a dyspeptic angler fish and the layout was done by Joey Deacon. It doesn’t contain any facts, and it doesn’t contain answers, because nuclear armageddon and meteor strikes are off the table.
I’ve taken a light and passing interest in the ongoing situation with Boeing and their flying meatsack tubes, specifically the 737 MAX. It’s been prompted largely by reading about it on Tim Newman’s blog. In it he identifies managerial malaise as a likely root cause. Other explanations are on the table so as to satisfy the proponents of every pet theory. There’s probably a bit of truth in all of them, but I think what Tim identifies, and his commenters add to, gets to the heart of the specific matter in question. And there are plenty more clues in and beneath this piece by the excellent Gareth Corfield in The Register.
But there are much wider and more fundamental factors in play. So much so that although there may be a few sacrificial lambs offered up to the FAA (and their global counterparts) by Boeing, we will never really get to the heart of the matter. Because at the centre of the matter is not a heart, but a burgeoning fibrous tumor that reaches invades and entangles the entire inner workings of modern society, the excision of which can only be fatal to the patient. As the tumor continues to grow, the question of fatality is not if but when, and the hour surely approaches.
Tim’s narrative of managerial dogmatism and wilful structural blindness to empirical truths meshes nicely with Gareth’s (and his commenters’) story of an errant subsystem whose design and production were outsourced, presumably to a global company with a ‘globalised’ workforce. But we’re still playing in a microcosm here – Boeing and their supplier, and it seems like the buck can only stop somewhere inside Boeing, though the senior management seem determined to ensure it won’t be them.
To consider the bigger picture is to wake up teetering over an abyss.
It’s too early to tell what damage this will do to Boeing. That’s largely in the hands of the regulators (who I’ll get to in a minute), and I suppose that there will be passengers who could be tempted to fly with an airline who doesn’t operate Boeing planes – I’d probably be one of them.
The Danse Macabre of Global Capital and Global Government.
It’s worth considering the possibility of Boeing going bust, and asking who would benefit, and who’s prepared to do what to keep it from happening.
- Airbus, its EU partner countries and companies would certainly benefit from becoming the sole dominant maker of passenger jets. They could use a shot in the arm. Their A380 venture has been an almighty and expensive debacle. With French, Spanish, German and Dutch economies all having big stakes in Airbus, you can bet the EU will be flexing its muscles in their collective interests.
You can bet the EU’s EASA will be provided with incentives to take a particularly robust view of Boeing’s safety record when it comes to allowing 737 MAX operations to resume.
- A cash-rich Chinese, Russian or Middle-Eastern company could pick the bones from the carcass of a moribund Boeing. With the connivance of their respective governments and regulators, they could do it for profit, power and lulz, all of which would move East.
- Those who dislike flying for environmental reasons may see benefits too. It would be unlike the greenies to miss an opportunity to stick the knife into Boeing while they’re on the canvas. The loss of a major producer reduces competition, allowing complacency within Airbus to grow, which allows costs and prices to drift upwards and standards to slide, reducing the number of passengers who are able or willing to pay the airfare.
Airbus, then, as a single supplier would also be a prime target for activism, especially as it chiefly manufactures in EU countries that are much more amenable to eco-babble (and its underlying socialism) than the USA is.
- Next there are the various diseased parasites who show up and take a cut whenever there’s a large amount of money at state. Lawyers, lobbyists, PR people, management consultants and auditors will all be gumming up the works with their reams of toilet roll decorated by the medium of Microsoft Office, and their gigatonnes of collective coffee-breath. A plague can be summarily cast on all of their houses.
And who stands to lose?
- Well, there are the 137,000 people who work for Boeing across the USA, plus all those who work for their suppliers and subcontractors, which probably doubles that number. I expect there are some uppity labor unions with a word or two to say on their behalf.
- There’s the US politicians who rely on the votes of those people as happy and productive voters, and count on Boeing as a deep-pocketed constituent with favours to buy from the reps, senators, governors and attorneys general of at least 9 US states. (Conversely there are those who would prefer all these people to be out-of-work clients of a provider state.)
- And there’s the institutional investors who no doubt hold an enormous slice of Boeing’s $200Bn market cap, and all have shiny offices in New York.
- Whether air passengers win or lose is an open question, I suppose. If choice reduces and prices rise, they lose, but if a fundamentally unsound company who has taken to turning out fundamentally unsafe aircraft beats its last, then have we honesty lost anything worth keeping? That isn’t to say that without Boeing to compete with, Airbus’s safety record would be maintained or improved? If they no-longer have mileage from putting ‘better engineered than Boeing’ on their powerpoint slides, why should they better engineer their planes? Against what benchmark would they strive to be better? Tupelev?
But somehow.. just like General Motors and all those banks, you just know that Boeing will go on, being as its Too Big To Fail (TM). Quite apart from the geopolitical ramifications of the USA no longer being a global player in the commercial airliners business, the core competency of modern business management is the dilution of responsibility to homeopathic extents by contriving to give business systems a life of their own, and stripping employees of all agency at the altar of process. Forget Deus Ex Machina, the machine IS the god now.
I find it fascinating – and its a topic in itself – that just as quickly as humanity unravels some of the great mysteries of the universe from general relativity to quantum mechanics, we feverishly generate our own equally impenetrable fog out of man-made parts. And what a fog it is… a globular soup of governments, regulators, politicians, charities, QUANGOs, financiers, lawyers, diplomats, lobbyists, consultants, missions, strategies, policies, systems and processes, HR departments, marketers, PR, outsourcers, freelance shit-shovelers and useful idiots, all thinly masking an air of menace, malice, recrimination and castigation. Some people think 1984 foreshadowed the world we live in today. Personally, I think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy got far closer to the truth.
Big Brother had his shit together. We’re being fucked by the survivors of the Golgafrincham B Ark.
Or, to put it in today’s parlance, we’re in Clown World.
When it comes to whistleblowers, it seems like the very best they can hope for is to be ignored, rather than smeared, subject to dirty tricks, imprisoned and/or killed because the stakes are so high. Is anyone naive enough to think any different?
So nobody will really be to blame, and those planes falling out of the sky will be ‘just one of those things’. We didn’t know anyone on the planes anyway.
And with that, the scene is set for a decade of obscure legal, regulatory and parliamentary tussles between and within world powers, embroiling and likely ruining myriad companies and, ultimately, people. Livelihoods and liberty forfeited, money burned, palms greased, power accrued, showtrials and public vilification of scapegoats on TV after X-Factor.
Meanwhile, the 6 guys responsible are at Martha’s Vineyard drinking L Ron Hubbard’s vintage piss out of Marylin Monroe’s mooncup, and fucking your 10 year old child.