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OpinionEditorial

Boeing failed safety test

A Boeing 737 Max jet is parked in

A Boeing 737 Max jet is parked in Renton, Washington, on Dec. 16. Credit: AP / Elaine Thompson

 Boeing was one of the United States' most trusted, respected and iconic companies.

Now, it's a symbol of the tragic consequences when corporations put craven self-interest ahead of safety. 

Boeing executives failed their corporate mission and their public one. Their disgraceful behavior has punished their employees and shareholders, damaged the company's  reputation, and resulted in the likely preventable deaths of hundreds of people. Yet, those who oversaw this disastrous chapter are leaving their jobs with millions of dollars in stock and equity. It's another example of why Americans are so angry with an amoral corporate culture.  

Over the last year and a half, two of Boeing's 737 Max aircraft crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing 346 people. The appalling loss of life is unforgivable, especially as information comes out about what employees and executives knew, and did nothing about. Newly released memos and messages expose employees and executives who didn't want family members riding on the planes, while others talked of evading regulators. 

Boeing executives knew the 737 Max was a flawed, potentially dangerous aircraft. Yet the company allowed airlines to buy the plane, and pilots to fly it, all while not requiring simulator training. It was only after the second crash, and intense pressure, that the aviation giant even grounded the dangerous fleet.

Executives have steered Boeing, without a moral or ethical compass, straight toward the ground. The financial consequences, too, have been enormous, as the company's shares have plummeted, losing 25 percent of their value since before the March grounding of the aircraft.

Boeing's fall is also the story of lax regulation, and too-cozy relationships between the Federal Aviation Administration and the companies it's supposed to oversee. A stronger, more aggressive FAA that doesn't rely upon industry to regulate itself, with more extensive oversight from Congress, is necessary.

Meanwhile, Boeing's departing chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, is walking away with $80 million in stock options, pension benefits and other equity, while Boeing's former chief executive of its commercial airplanes division, Kevin McAllister, received a $14.75 million payout. Together, the two executives received about as much as the total amount of money Boeing put aside for families of the 346 victims: $100 million. That's about $289,017 per victim.

Then there's new chief executive David Calhoun, a former Boeing board member, who has been offered a $7 million bonus if he meets certain goals, including getting the 737 Max back in the air. 

But what if it doesn't belong in the air? 

It seems that even as Calhoun says the right things, he's falling into the same trap, where the goal isn't about safety and trust, but about the 737 Max flying again, no matter the cost.

Rewarding Calhoun for getting the plane back in the air is repulsive; his bonus should be canceled. Beyond that, Calhoun made some good first moves, releasing the internal memos that reveal some of the truth behind the cover-up, and reversing company policy to require simulator training.

It's a start. But Boeing has a long way to go to find a way out of the turbulence and into clear skies.

— The editorial board

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