Grado de dificultad: 3 (Por el idioma y la sofisticación de la mentira)

Columnista: Roberto

An old memory

I keep this old memory of an informal discussion, between executives and engineers, in a corporation I used to work for.

In the middle of the discussion, someone said, in a joking tone “You are not paid to tell the truth, you are paid so that people believe you”.

It took me a few decades to understand that this was not a joke, and that he was saying that to me.

Weird memory and weird way to start a post, don’t you think?

In fact, this memory came back to me while reading an article in the Washington Post, the following:

Damage control

Everything’s alright

TMN already talk (in an elliptic way) of Boeing’s problems with two sadly famous plane crashes (in which 346 people died). It is time to be more direct.

In the Washington Post article, among other interesting parts to analyze carefully (for the cunning PR language that is used), there is the following passage:

… Asked about what led to the safety flaws in the 737 Max, Muilenburg said Boeing didn’t make any mistakes in its design of the planes. “There was no surprise or gap or unknown here or something that somehow slipped through the certification,” Muilenburg said. “We know exactly how the airplane was designed, and we know exactly how the airplane was certified.”

The CEO said both crashes were caused by a “series of events” that included erroneous sensor data being fed into the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system, or MCAS, an anti-stall system that played a role in both crashes. “There were actions — or actions not taken — that contributed to the final outcome,” he said, alluding to the role of the pilots …

This is the text that triggered my remembering, and here is how it works: You could initially believe in what this high executive says (“You are not paid to tell the truth, you are paid so that people believe you”).

Oh! And thank you for the casual accusation of the pilots…

He and all his fellows use to speculate on the lack of knowledge of the people who listen to them.

For example, when he says that “There was no surprise or gap or unknown here or something that somehow slipped through the certification”, you could think that the FAA (the authority that delivers the certifications) is a reliable entity.

That is until you discover that, in fact, it is Boeing that performs the certification of its own planes!

Judge and part

This extraordinary power of Boeing is not new. For example, years before, there was a controversy about the certification of an intercontinental aircraft which, unlike required for any other of this category, has only two reactors when its competitors are required four.

The name of this aircraft? Boeing 737 … As you can figure, having two engines instead of four makes the plane less expensive.

Yes, it’s very useful to be judge and part at the same time. You can also shut up any critics that would dare to doubt of your immaculate behavior. That is what they did all along.

This is also why, when all international entities started to ground the deadly plane, the FAA didn’t follow them.

Unfortunately for Boeing, when their life is in danger, normal people don’t believe so easily in the words of a corporation.

When US citizen started to call flight companies to cancel their ticket if the plane was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, the game was quickly over.

Then suddenly, the discourse changed on Boeing side, while unpleasant information started to be revealed and confirmed.


Money and credibility

The Washington Post article is interesting in how far away financial interests are from our mere preoccupations. The Boeing shareholders are not interested by the 346 persons who died.

They are only afraid to see the price of their actions dropping and don’t seem to realize that the damage is far worse than they think.

Let us put it that way: would you get in a Boeing 737, ever, now? And even in any Boeing aircraft?

Do you believe in what the FAA says about it?

Boeing has only one strong argument, and it is not good: the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is a very common plane. Tenth of airline companies are in jeopardy because the majority (if not all) of their fleet is composed of these planes.

They will have to make their individual decision about what to do with them.

What you can hear from Boeing is directed to these companies, who are chained to the American corporation.

How many among them will bankrupt? That is the right question.

For example, in Colombia, Avianca Airlines doesn’t own any Boeing 737 MAX.

Now they are unexpectedly recovering a leadership they were losing.

Avianca Official Logo


In United States, it is even worse: Boeing is an intense lobbyist (owning the FAA was one of their prides), involved in many federal projects, among which the NASA space program.

Unfortunately (but is it really a bad luck), they are not performing very well in that area either.

It is so bad that vice president Pence expressed publicly his anger recently, demanding an American presence on the moon within five years.

The case is that Boeing is an iconic feature of the American capitalism. Should it fall would be catastrophic… So, it won’t (#ToBigToFall), no matter what we want.

In the Washington Post article that inspired the present text, there is, toward the end, a strong admission:

Boeing executives have pushed back on the idea that the two crashes point to any fundamental flaws related to how Boeing designs or certifies aircraft. Even so, a committee of Boeing board members is reviewing its process for aircraft design, development and certification and will recommend improvements in order to “make a safe industry even safer

Reading carefully, it is clearly stated that Boeing certified its own aircraft (reassuring!). And funnily, they continue pretending that “everything is fine”, while frantically reviewing their whole process.

Make a safe industry even safer” doesn’t look like an “everything OK!” statement.

“Always having doubts” is scientists’ everyday feeling, and so should have always been Boeing’s plane design process.