Corporate Failure

I watched the documentary on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 last night. It’s on Prime[1]. Called Flight/Risk. It starts with the launch of the new aircraft and ends as the aircraft returns to service and the consequences of the disaster that are still rippling through aviation. Seattle Times journalist, Dominic Gates appears frequently. His perspective is one that I was reading as the accidents and following events unfolded.

It’s a well-made production. I my view it focuses too much on whistle-blowers and too little on the appalling design errors made in certifying the aircraft. However, I can understand the choices made by the film makers. It’s primarily aimed at a public audience and not technical experts.  

This was a massive and fatal corporate failure. My recollections of working with Boeing in Seattle, in the mid-1990s are that such events could never have occurred in that era. It was a preeminent engineering company, with a proud heritage and safety was as important as the blood that flows through our veins. What happened in this last decade is beyond shocking.

Now, corrective action is being taken. Efforts are being made to re-establish an effective safety culture. All over the world technical experts have securitised the modified Boeing 737 MAX to the n-th degree. The company expects the Boeing 737 MAX 7 will be certified by the end of the year and the larger MAX 10 in the first half next year.

What is regretful is how long the design and manufacturing industries resisted the introduction of Safety Management Systems (SMS). I remember doing presentations to industry on that subject more than 2-decades ago.

So, what does a bad corporate and safety culture look like? We must recognise it, and not ignore the signs. What concerns me is, however much we have learned from the Boeing 737 MAX saga; it will soon be forgotten. Pasted over like wallpaper.

As if to give me an illustration, I was standing in a high street shop, browsing sale items in the normal way. It’s always nice to pick up a bargain. Even though it was a busy Saturday afternoon, there wasn’t many people in the shop. Behind me, were two store employees chatting away. They didn’t pay much attention to me until they had finished. They were close enough for me to hear most of what they were saying. One of them was the store manager.

Basically, they were having a whinge about the company that owned the shop. One key aspect was the waste of time, as they saw it, of being sent on company training courses where expensive consultants rabbited on to them about matters that were totally irrelevant to their day-to-day business. They blamed the corporate management. They haven’t got a clue, and it’s getting worse was the gist of the chat. They both expressed love of their jobs. It was a cry of desperation and frustration as they feared the company was on the road to go bust.

I guess that’s it. When little, or no communication exists between shop floor, literally in this case, and corporate management then that’s a big indicator of grave troubles ahead.


[1] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flight-Risk-Karim-Amer/dp/B0B5K615MZ

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