Boeing’s ongoing struggles have many causes, both internal and external. But the federal government should intervene in two important ways: reasserting government control over safety oversight and granting access to a powerful career-assistance program to workers laid off by Boeing.
The disastrous 737 MAX project was a homemade failure years in the making. Boeing’s managerial shortcuts and profit-first mindset led to crashes that killed 346 passengers. This self-generated catastrophe requires reforming how Boeing is regulated.
But that cannot undo the economic damage amid a uniquely unforgiving landscape. No aspect of the aerospace industry has been immune from the ongoing downturn. And Boeing competitor Airbus is neither standing down from its surge past Boeing in the global marketplace nor forswearing government subsidies.
Boeing’s decline requires immediate attention to helping its workforce survive seismic industry shifts. A federal mechanism for workers victimized by global market forces can help cover this need. The Trade Adjustment Assistance program, nearly 50 years old, should be opened to the 12,000 U.S. workers laid off by Boeing this year, nearly 10,000 in Washington state. The program would provide those workers training programs, job-search aid and an extension of unemployment benefits.
The best aid would be a return to the steady employment and ample profits Boeing once generated. The federal government’s help is needed to save Boeing from its past mistakes and from regulators’ worst impulses of shortcutting safety regulations to save money and time. Boeing became an industry leader by earning trust in its planes’ safety. Its downfall has come through prioritizing efficiencies.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has made an important advance by negotiating a bipartisan bill to force Boeing back toward a safety-first mindset. The new bill, filed Tuesday, strengthens legislation proposed by Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, head of the Senate’s commerce committee. It should pass to reverse a long erosion of federal oversight over Boeing safety certification. The company’s control over inspections and testing led to what the bill calls “undue pressure and regulatory coziness.” Reforming that system is a key step toward the restoration of Boeing’s industry leadership.
The bipartisan bill will get its first public airing at a hearing Wednesday. It is in the interest of all Americans, especially the flying public, for this bipartisan reform to swiftly become a law to help Boeing reestablish a corporate culture of creating excellence before cashing in.