For the past 10 months the 737 Max airplane which was developed by Boeing has been grounded with no timetable for its return to the sky. This comes after two deadly crashes of Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 in 2018 and 2019 which are responsible for killing a total of 346 people (Schaper, Romo). These crashes are believed to be the cause of the way pilots of the new airline were being trained. Originally Boeing had planned for flight crews of the new 737 max to be trained all through a computer-based system that would be a sufficient way of preparing pilots to make the change from older models of the 737 such as the NG model to the new Max model. A technique that would benefit the company financially. The computer-based system of training pilots and their crews on the 737 Max came as an alternative to flight simulator training for the plane.
However, the pilots and crew training are not the only problem that caused the two fatal crashes of the 737 Max. The primary difference between the older models of the 737 and the newer 737 Max model is type and size of the engine. The 737 Max has an engine that is larger but at the same time this new engine was to be 14% more fuel efficient which would save money for airline companies (Ostrower). Because the 737 Max has larger engines than previous models they could not be placed at the same position on the wing as they would hit the ground while the plane was not airborne. Boeing’s solution to this problem was to simply re-position the engine and have the top of the engine be slightly above the top of the wings of the plane.
Unfortunately, this caused problems for the 737 Max as the engine placement caused for the nose of the plane to be pointed too high in the air which could cause the plane to climb to high and eventually stall which would cause a crash. Luckily, Boeing noticed this issue and implemented a sensor that would be able to detect if the nose of the plane was pointed too high and automatically adjust the flight path back to normal by pushing the plane of the nose downwards. This system was known as the “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System” or MCAS for short (Ma). However, this MCAS system was faulty as it relied on readings from only one sensor and could malfunction as in the two fatal crashes causing the nose of the plane to point too far down into a declining trajectory rather than simply stabilizing the flight trajectory. There was also no way for pilots to override the system completely and many pilots did not know how to override it at all due to the lack of training the pilots received regarding the new aircraft (Gelles).
The fact that there were multiple issues with the 737 Max at the time of its release raises the question on how the new line of aircraft was able to be approved for commercial use by the FAA or Federal Aviation Administration. Had the FAA regulators responsible for approving the 737 Max been aware of these issues and the potential implications of them they would certainly not have approved the 737 Max to be used in flight.
Even more recently messages and e-mails between employees of Boeing have surfaced which would certainly suggest that many employees were aware of these serious issues that the 737 Max had prior to its launch and eventual grounding. Many of the messages that have surfaced have been messages of Boeing employees mocking other employees responsible for the design and design flaws of the 737 Max as well as mocking the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulators who were responsible for approving the 737 Max despite its multitude of flaws. One report of surfaced communications between employees of Boeing found one employee mocking his peers by stating “This plane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys” (Schaper, Romo). This would certainly point towards this employee knowing the flaws that were present in the design of the plane and how the company should have known to fix it.
These reports also show different employees reporting how Boeing covered up these flaws and used deceptive tactics to convince the FAA to approve the release of the 737 Max. In one instance an employee was reported as saying even he could not understand the presentation that was given to the FAA regarding the 737 Max. The presentation was designed to be too complicated so that the FAA officials would not be able to understand it either. The employee was quoted as likening this particular presentation to “dogs watching TV” (Kitroeff). The report also found a different Boeing employee saying in 2018 “I still haven't been forgiven by God for all the covering up I did last year” in regards to their exchange of information with the FAA pertaining to the 737 Max (Kitroeff).
In response to these unfortunate deadly crashes and release of the reports of communication between employees Boeing has employed a few major changes. They released a statement to congress which apologized for their actions. They also claimed that only a small number of employees were responsible for communication with the FAA and that some of these employees were the same ones who made the mocking remarks in the surfaced e-mails and messages (Schaper, Romo). Boeing further stated that they were likely to lose $7.3 billion dollars from the prolonged grounding of the 737 Max (Gelles). Finally, Boeing fired their CEO, Dennis Muilenburg (Kitroeff). Ultimately, Boeing hid information from FAA regulators in order to have their 737 Max airplanes approved for launch when in reality Boeing and many of its employees knew full well the plane had flaws that made it unfit for flight.
The stakeholders in this case cover a wide range of people from the CEO of Boeing to the unfortunate passengers of the two flights that crashed due to the 737 Max’s faults. The now former CEO of Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg lost his job for the role he played in the company turning a blind eye to the problems of the 737 Max and ultimately causing an untimely death for many unfortunate passengers. The employees of Boeing or at least a small group of them are responsible for using deceptive tactics and lying to the FAA which allowed the 737 Max to pass inspection despite its flaws, many other employees knew about the flaws yet did nothing to alert people. The victims of the crash who lost their lives in the unfortunate accidents as well as their families are the main victims of this case. The FAA was also some form of a victim as they were tricked and lied to in order to pass an aircraft that was not ready for flight and therefore caused extreme tragedy for many. Owners and stockholders of Boeing were not unaffected either as they lost out on $7.3 billion due to the prolonged grounding of the aircraft. Finally, all air travelers were affected in some way as they are now in fear if something like this could happen again in the future.
The primary values of the individualist ethical theory are to maximize profits as well as staying within the law and not using deceptive tactics. These ideas were founded by famous economist Milton Friedman. He believes the only goal of business should be to maximize profits for shareholders or owners. Friedman’s theory of individualism would certainly claim that this case involving Boeing is unethical. First, Boeing failed to maximize profits for its shareholders as Boeing lost out on $7.3 billion dollars due to the problems with the 737 Max airplanes. Not maximizing profits is just as bad as stealing in the eyes of Friedman and his view on individualism. Secondly, this case would also not be ethical under Friedman’s individualism because he states that businesses must stay within the law and not use deceptive tactics. In this case Boeing both broke the law and used deceptive tactics. They lied to the FAA in order to have a plane launched that was in no way ready for flight. Boeing's lying to and mocking of the FAA also fails to pass the minimum morality model of individualism. The minimum morality model states that not causing harm is obligatory for businesses while preventing harm and doing good are optional and doing good is supererogatory or going above and beyond. Boeing failed to do any of these thus causing them to not be deemed ethical according to this model as they failed to do the simplest of things, not harming people. Boeing caused the ultimate harm to an unlucky 346 people who trusted them to get them to their destination safely. Unfortunately because Boeing lied just to get their plane approved and in the air they caused the egregious death of 346 passengers of their 737 Max airline when on two separate occasions the faults in the plane system, which they were aware of, caused the plane to crash killing all those aboard the flight.
The core values of The Kantian ethical perspective are rational decision making, individual autonomy and honesty. This ethical theory was developed and popularized by Immanuel Kant in the 1700’s. A primary belief of Kantian ethics is the formula of humanity which states that all people should be treated as an end and never as just a means to get something else. The actions of Boeing violate the formula of humanity because both the FAA and the passengers of the 737 Max airplanes developed by Boeing were simply used as a means in Boeing’s pursuit of increased profits. Kant also believed that people should be motivated by good will and should do the right thing purely because it is the right thing to do. Boeing violated this in many ways because they did not do the right thing in the first place when they lied to regulators from the FAA just to get a plane approved that they knew was unfit for flight. Because Boeing did not do the right thing they could not possibly have been motivated for the right reasons and rather were motivated purely by self-interest. Finally, Kantian ethics believes that people should have the right and the ability to make their own decisions, however these decisions must be informed ones and all the facts must be provided in order to ensure that the person making the decision is fully informed on the impact of their decision. Boeing violated this when they withheld information regarding the issues of the 737 Max from the FAA regulators who were responsible for deciding whether or not to approve the plane for commercial flight. Boeing did not respect the autonomy of the regulators because they did not give them the opportunity to make an informed and educated decision on the 737 Max. Boeing not only violated the autonomy of the FAA but also all the passengers who boarded a 737 Max flight during the period before they were grounded because these passengers did not have all the information as to the enormous risks they were taking by being on that airplane and had they been provided all the honest information about the plane and its flaws perhaps they would not have made the same decision to take that flight.
The primary value of Utilitarian ethics is creating the maximum happiness in all conscious beings. Under this theory businesses should strive to reach the outcome that will maximize happiness for all people that may be affected by their decision. Utilitarian ethics were founded and then popularized by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the 1800’s. Under the view of Utilitarian ethics, the actions Boeing took in order to get the 737 Max approved for flight as well as after the plane was approved would not be deemed ethical. During the development and approval process of the 737 Max Boeing never intended to maximize happiness for all those involved. They believed by lying and withholding information they could increase profits and thereby maximize their own happiness which is known as Egoism. However, they were not able to even maximize their own happiness because after the issues with the planes were discovered and the second flight crashed all 737 Max airplanes were indefinitely grounded causing Boeing to lose out on a great deal of profits. Boeing did not maximize happiness for the greatest number of people involved as their decisions and actions led to the death of 346 passengers and crew members on the two flights that crashed. They also did not maximize happiness in the FAA as they were deceived into approving the airplane when it was unfit for flight which led to them losing some credibility and being forced to reevaluate their own operations. They also did not maximize happiness among their own employees as they were the home of a toxic work environment where employees who were responsible for designing this plane with its multiple flaws were mocked by their peers in internal emails and messages that surfaced after this case had become public. If Boeing had gone back and focused on maximizing the long term happiness for all those involved in this situation they would have reached a very different conclusion on how to move forward with the production and approval of the 737 Max, for these reasons Boeing’s choices and actions regarding this case would be deemed unethical from a Utilitarian perspective.
Virtue theory is the oldest of the four main ethical theories and was first created and used by Aristotle, a popular philosopher in ancient Greece. The primary values of the virtue theory he created is for people to maintain good or virtuous character traits while abstaining from character traits that are deemed to be negative. He believed that if people had good character traits and stayed away from bad ones that the best society as a whole would result. Boeing violated this ethical theory as many of their employees as well as their company as a whole had many negative character traits which led to an unfit plane being approved for flight which ultimately led to loss of life as well as other major issues in the business environment such as loss of profit. Boeing and many of their employees did not have the virtue of honesty as they chose to trick, lie to and deceive the FAA regulators responsible for making a decision on whether or not to approve the 737 Max for flight or not. They also did not employ the virtue of care as they clearly did not care about the safety and well-being of the passengers aboard their 737 Max airplanes as they knew the pane had problems that could potentially be deadly and caused for the tragic loss of 346 lives due to their faulty design and their choice to lie about it. Finally, Boeing did not have the virtuous trait of courage as after these crashes they acted in a cowardly manner and chose to at first remain completely silent about the incident that had occurred. When Boeing finally chose to speak about the tragic accidents that had occurred to two of their airplanes they did not have the courage to stand up and admit their mistakes and take full responsibility for their actions but rather they pushed the blame onto the pilots of the two unfortunate airplanes and claimed that they were the reason why the planes had crashed and that Boeing was not responsible in any way. It was not until further investigations on the two deadly crashes were completed that the true cause of the crashes was revealed as Boeing’s faulty design and manufacturing.
Justified Ethics Review
The actions taken by Boeing in the development and release of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft was not justified in any way. Boeing knew full well the major risk they were taking by releasing an aircraft that was unfit for flight and the numerous amounts of people they were putting in danger. Airplane manufacturers owe it to the millions of people they are responsible for transporting that they will take care of them and get them to their destination safely. Furthermore, Boeing was not ethical as they made fun of others in their own company as well as outside agencies regarding the problems that any employees knew existed in the airplane, however none of them did anything to stop this and many of them actively hid this information from the public. Ultimately, the truth was found out about Boeing’s unethical tactics but is was too late as the problems had caused extreme loss of life on two separate and tragic occasions when these planes crashed killing all those aboard, he flight. Boeing had many ethical issues in this case from, lying to mocking fellow employees, this issue could all have been prevented if the company had done the right thing from the start and not released the airplane into the market until it was truly ready.
As covered in the case section of the paper, Boeing has been receiving harsh backlash due to the catastrophic failure of one of their most anticipated airplanes, the Boeing 737 Max. The 737 Max was released in 2016 and by 2019 two 737 Max flights had crashed leading to the deaths of all passengers and crew aboard the two flights. These crashes were caused by faulty manufacturing on the part of Boeing. Not only did Boeing know about the issues with the new airplane they had released they also hid these issues from regulators in order to speed up the approval process for the 737 Max. In recent reports of communication between employees of Boeing many instances were found in which employees admitted to not only knowledge of the issues with the airplanes but also how they had hid these issues and made fun of fellow employees of Boeing who designed the plane as well as regulators from the FAA who, despite the problems still approved the plane for flight.
Boeing did not help their situation by any means when after the first crash of the 737 Max they did not accept responsibility and remained silent on the situation. After the second crash of a Boeing 737 Max airplane occurred Boeing attempted to push the blame on the individual pilots of the two crashes for not being able to pilot the airplane correctly in an emergency which caused the crashes and unfortunate deaths of all those aboard the flights. However, The pilots were not to blame for the crashes as Boeing’s manufacturing and lack of information and training was the true cause. In this instance Boeing should have handled the entire situation surrounding the issues with the 737 Max very differently.
To begin, after the first crash of the 737 Max Boeing should have begun to take action rather than stay silent until a second crash occurred. Immediately after the first crash Boeing should have voluntarily grounded the 737 Max and launched an individual investigation into the plane crash and what the causes could have been that led to it. Boeing was certainly in the wrong when they blamed the pilots of the crashes for these tragic events as they did their absolute best to save the plane and all passengers. In this case Boeing should have accepted full responsibility for the crashes as they were fully aware of the problems with the 737 Max airplane and the tragedies that could occur due to these problems. Boeing should have released an apology to all the families of the victims of the two crashes and also provided them with some form of financial compensation for their extreme loss. Furthermore, Boeing owed an apology to the FAA whom they lied to and deceived leading to the approval of an airplane that was unfit for flight. Boeing should also have investigated those responsible for designing the 737 Max airplane as well as those responsible for communicating with the FAA on behalf of the Boeing 737 Max.
Currently Boeing’s mission statement is “Connect, Protect, Explore and Inspire the World through Aerospace Innovation”, I would change this mission statement to focus more on customer safety in response to recent events. Boeing’s new mission statement should be “Leading Innovation in Safety, Comfort and Convenience for Aerospace Design and Development Across the Globe”. This improves on Boeing’s current statement as it makes their intentions clearer and also has safety at the forefront of what they are striving for in their industry.
After these events Boeing also should restructure their core values as the greedy pursuit of profits led to a poorly designed airplane which caused harm to many including themselves. Boeing’s first core value should be customer safety as they failed to put the safety of their customers first which led to the death of over 300 passengers. Their second core value should be honesty as they lied and deceived the FAA just so the 737 Max could be approved faster despite it’s issues. Their third core value should be teamwork as they had a toxic working environment due to employees mocking each other over the design flaws of the 737 Max which led to the two crashes. Their fourth and final core value should be reliability as the forced grounding of all 737 Max airplanes caused Boeing as well as many airlines who use their planes to lose out on large profits because Boeing released an unreliable product.
In order to ensure ethical productivity in the future as well as ensure that an issue similar to this one does not occur again in the future Boeing must make some significant changes. For one Boeing should monitor all emails between employees in order to stop all the mocking and making fun of other employees in order to change their once toxic working environment. Secondly, they should offer a reward to employees who are able to identify problems with their products prior to their release as this would encourage employees to be sure that the products created are the best they can possibly be and prevent unsafe products from being released to the public due to employees covering up the issues. Third, Boeing should force all products to be approved by an internal investigation board or committee before presenting these products to government agencies, such as the FAA, for approval. As a result of this catastrophe Boeing fired their CEO Dennis Muilenberg, although this is a good start more Boeing employees should be fired as a result of this. Boeing should fire all those employees who either mocked their fellow employees or admitted to deceiving the FAA in the reports that recently were released. Boeing should not fire all those responsible for designing the 737 Max as they were likely under much pressure from supervisors and the issues were likely not intentional and the extent of them may not have been known. However, Boeing may need to hire more qualified employees to design airplanes in the future as their current employees did not live up to the expectations the public has come to expect from a Boeing product.
In response to the issues Boeing must take measures to re-market themselves as they have received a lot of bad publicity as a result of these events. For starters, they should release some form of public apology in which they take responsibility for their actions which led to the two crashes. This could be done either in a commercial, press conference or a written statement. Also, once the problems with the 737 Max are fixed and the plane is truly ready for flight Boeing should re-brand it as something other than the 737 Max as there will forever be fears surrounding the name 737 Max due to all the harm it has caused and negative attention it has received. All changes will help Boeing recover from all this negativity as the employees responsible for these problems will be replaced and under new leadership Boeing can focus on what is really important such as customer safety and a positive healthy work environment. Doing this will help to increase the profits of Boeing as people will want to work for a company that cares about its customers which will increase worker productivity and innovation. Also, by putting customer safety first people will be happy to fly with Boeing thus increasing demand for their products and raising profit for the company as a whole.
-Kyle Skerry (WNE '22)
Ma, Alexandra. “Boeing Is Promising 3 Fixes to the Faulty System behind the 737 Max Crashes to Let Pilots Stop It from Forcing the Plane into an Unstoppable Nosedive.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 9 Dec. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/boeing-737-max-mcas-fixes-2019-12.
Ostrower, Jon. “Boeing: 737 Max Fuel Efficiency Now Seen Gaining 14%.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 29 Oct. 2013, www.wsj.com/articles/boeing-737-max-fuel-efficiency-now-seen-gaining-14-1383067596?ns=prod%2Faccounts-wsj.
Gelles, David. “Boeing 737 Max: What's Happened After the 2 Deadly Crashes.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/business/boeing-737-crashes.html?mtrref=www.google.com&assetType=REGIWALL.
Schaper, David, and Vanessa Romo. “Boeing Employees Mocked FAA In Internal Messages Before 737 Max Disasters.” NPR, NPR, 10 Jan. 2020, www.npr.org/2020/01/09/795123158/boeing-employees-mocked-faa-in-internal-messages-before-737-max-disasters.
Salazar, Heather. “The Business Ethics Case Manual: The Authoritative Step-by-Step Guide to Understanding and Improving the Ethics of any Business.” n.d.
Kitroeff, Natalie. “Boeing Employees Mocked F.A.A. and 'Clowns' Who Designed 737 Max.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Jan. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/01/09/business/boeing-737-messages.html.