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How to Fix Boeing, By an Industry Expert (Hint: It’s Not About D.E.I.)

Critics of Boeing blame its troubles on its multi-racial hiring practices. But the real source of its problems affects the safety of every air traveler in the USA.

There was a time when the Boeing Company was the pride of the United States. Not just of its aviation industry—for the entire country. 

Back when Americans built stuff domestically instead of outsourcing to China, Boeing built products as well as any other corporation in the nation, from the B-29s that helped win World War II to several generations of Air Force One to those Lunar Roving Vehicles on the moon. 

Airline travel was forever transformed for the better by Boeing’s 707 (the first successful passenger jet) and the 747 (first twin-aisle wide body). Boeing was a company that once did things right.

Since 1997—and an ill-fated merger with McDonnell Douglas—that hasn’t been the case, as Boeing shifted from a focus on engineering to a focus on MBAs pursuing quarterly profits. For years now, Boeing has been caught in an endless stream of production delays, quality snafus, and unhappy customers in the airline sector, the defense sector, and even the space sector. 

Of course, in 2019, the whole world learned that Boeing’s reputation had faded. That was when two back-to-back fatal crashes within five months of two new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed a total of 346 people.

For anyone who believed that the post-MAX media attention, lawsuits, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation had transformed Boeing’s corporate culture, such hopes disappeared into the night skies over Oregon on January 5, 2024. That’s when an eight-week-old Boeing 737 MAX 9 operating as Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 experienced a massive inflight structural failure and a door plug blew out after takeoff. There were injuries, but thankfully no deaths.

What caused Boeing’s troubles?

There’s been no shortage of journalistic analysis and social media punditry in recent months. Right now, there also are three concurrent federal investigations underway by the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board, and even the Department of Justice, which is treating Boeing as a criminal case. In fact, the FBI recently notified Alaska 1282 passengers they may be the victims of a crime.

It will take some time for these investigations to play out. What we know already is that Boeing’s troubles can be traced to a recent systematic deconstruction of its far-flung manufacturing network until it was spread over numerous U.S. states and 65 countries, making efficient oversight nearly impossible.

There also were not one but two moves of the Boeing corporate headquarters in recent years, along with widespread massive outsourcing. All of this has contributed to a loss of quality control.

Meanwhile, some of the same pundits are making the absurd and false claim that Boeing’s real problem is its multi-racial hiring policies have weakened the company’s workforce. One recent report cited an unnamed “insider” at Boeing who claimed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) hiring will bring in “the bottom 20% of the preferred population.” 

There’s nothing subtle about those claims. They are rife with racism and misogyny, and they also ignore Boeing’s recent union-busting and outsourcing, which had direct effects on the company’s organization and workflow. 

And it’s worth noting the last five CEOs since Boeing’s 1997 merger have all been white males. They are the ones ultimately responsible.

This isn’t the first time apologists for Boeing have proffered false and racist rumors. After the two fatal MAX accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia, whisper campaigns placed the blame on the skills of the dead “Third World” pilots

That kind of talk continues to this day, despite the fact that Boeing agreed to pay a $2.5 billion deferred prosecution agreement from the Department of Justice in 2021 that revealed that the company was charged with defrauding the FAA during the MAX investigation. There’s no question where the real blame is.

What does need fixing at Boeing 

There’s much that needs to be done to clean house internally at Boeing, but recent management changes don’t go nearly far enough to establish a new safety culture and institute permanent change.

The most meaningful fix for Boeing must come—ironically enough—from outside rather than inside the company. And that means revamping the overburdened FAA, which is charged with providing oversight of Boeing and every other domestic aviation manufacturer, airline, repair station, and airport.

At the heart of the Boeing debacle is the fact that the company largely self-regulated its own quality, primarily through “designees” that serve two masters: both Boeing and the FAA. The FAA’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program relies on Boeing employees delegated by the FAA to oversee manufacturing and even certification of the very company that appointed them. 

Imagine being dependent on Boeing for your paycheck, yet also having to tell Boeing’s CEO that you’ve discovered a serious safety threat that could cost the company billions. Does that sound workable? Nope.

It’s a system that simply doesn’t function, and the MAX mess is Exhibit A in the failure of the ODA program

The recent suspicious death of a Boeing whistleblower in South Carolina only raises more questions about such risks.

So why is the FAA outsourcing its own inspection authority? Because for seven Presidential administrations under both parties, America has been saying one thing and doing another. 

When a shocking event like the Alaska Airlines door plug drama unfolds, the media and Congress stress that airline safety is paramount and we have zero tolerance for accidents. Yet for more than 40 years, the United States has greatly understaffed and underfunded the FAA.

I’ve been detailing this problem for more than two decades. The FAA’s reputation as the “Tombstone Agency” is at the heart of my 2012 book Attention All Passengers. Thankfully, we’ve seen a more proactive FAA in 2024, one that immediately grounded the MAX 9 the day after the Portland drama and then halted MAX production while laying out a comprehensive inspection plan. As someone who has been one of the FAA’s harshest critics, I’m happy to give credit where it is due.

However, the larger problem remains. The only credible way to fix Boeing is to fix the FAA, and that must be done by ensuring that FAA inspectors are watching every step and preventing every corner from being cut for increased profit. 

The same principle applies to the need for greater FAA oversight of the airlines and outsourced maintenance, as I detailed here recently in discussing our new white paper, “How to Fix Flying.”

Americans say they want the safest aviation industry in the world. Well, now is the time to pay up. If we really believe that, we must properly fund the FAA to ensure that it’s true. Self-policing safety has failed.

William J. McGee is the Senior Fellow for Aviation & Travel at American Economic Liberties Project. An FAA-licensed aircraft dispatcher, he spent seven years in airline flight operations management and was Editor-in-Chief of
Consumer Reports Travel Letter. He is the author of Attention All Passengers and teaches at Vaughn College of Aeronautics. There is more at

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