Opinion | Conversations and reflections on the moment.


Zeynep Tufekci

There is the probable answer to why the exit door plug of the Boeing 737 Max Alaska Airlines flight exploded in mid-air. TO Preliminary report of the National Transportation Safety Board Regarding the incident, published today, it is stated that four screws were missing from the door stopper.

Those four bolts, which prevent the door from sliding up, are removed on purpose when mechanics have to remove the door for maintenance or inspection, as was done last September, according to the report. But somehow, when the installation was finished, they weren’t there. No bolts, nothing to stop the door from sliding up and then out.

Preliminary NTSB reports like this one focus on establishing facts rather than explaining who was at fault, which will have to wait until the final report. But this plane was practically new, and Boeing CEO David Calhoun has already acknowledged that it was a “quality exhaust” that caused the explosion.

Everything so far indicates that Boeing is a company plagued by poor quality controls. Just yesterday, was revealed that a supplier had discovered that “two holes may not have been drilled exactly to our requirements” in about 50 unfinished Boeing 737 Max planes, requiring more work on the planes and delaying their delivery.

How could all this happen?

This morning, before heading to the Capitol to testify before the House Transportation Committee, FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker. stopped by CNBC to discuss everything the agency has done to try to get ahead of this: slowing down Boeing production lines, revoking certain waivers, getting more inspectors on the ground, etc.

But he also said something that really gets to the heart of the matter. Pressed by the host about the root causes, Whitaker said: “The system is really designed as a audit system, and I think that has not worked well enough.”

Our airline safety system assumes that aircraft manufacturers are also deeply committed to maintaining safety standards, so FAA oversight focuses on identifying new problems, improving existing systems, and conducting audits to ensure that airlines existing standards are adequately met.

What happens if a company focuses more on what it could do in terms of cost reduction?

This is how we get to a world where audits alone will not have “worked well enough.” The missing bolts may have caused the door to explode, but it is the missing corporate spirit that we must examine to understand the root cause.

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