Saturday, April 19, 2008

Scary to fly? Here's why

By Caleb T. Maupin

Published Apr 18, 2008 7:45 PM
The country was in shock in early April as 3,000 flights were cancelled abruptly. Some 300,000 people found themselves stranded in airports, unable to reach their destinations due to this sudden action by the Federal Aviation Administration. The flights were grounded when “the culture of complacency” that existed between the FAA and the airlines was revealed.

The FAA is assigned the duty of making sure airplanes are safe for those who fly in them. Bobby Boutris, a North Texan, became one of the 46,000 FAA employees hoping to do just that. But he soon learned otherwise. He began to see that the job of FAA inspectors was not to keep the public safe but to do what the airlines wanted.

Boutris finally decided to blow the whistle. He described before Congress how he faced retaliation and punishment by the FAA bureaucracy for refusing to let unsafe airplanes reach the sky.

Due in part to his testimony, it was revealed that at least 1,457 recent flights have taken off without fulfilling safety precautions. Over 200,000 innocent passengers risked their lives flying in airplanes with cracked windshields, broken landing gear and damaged wings. (CNN.com, April 1)

In some cases FAA inspectors never even viewed the planes. It was employees of the airlines who actually inspected them. FAA inspectors just looked over their paperwork. (msnbc.com, April 8)

After Boutris’s testimony, his wife received a threatening letter in the mail. It contained an article about widows dealing with grief over the death of their husbands. The package also contained a note telling Mrs. Boutris the information could be “useful” to her soon. (Dallas Morning News, April 5)

More is coming out in the media about how unsafe the flights that millions of people fly are and how a bureaucracy known as the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t want to hear it.

Airlines, like all enterprises in capitalist society, are not driven by how well they serve the public or human needs. They are driven by how much profit can be pumped into the hands of those who own the business. It became clear that, to the airline industry’s wealthy owners, profits trumped safety by a whole lot.

The government is supposed to counterbalance the pressure of the employers for profits at the expense of safety. But when huge amounts of money are at stake, even “watchdogs” can turn out to be lapdogs of the companies.

The U.S. populace is overwhelmingly grateful for Boutris’s revelations, which he gave at great risk to himself. Perhaps this will educate all of us about the realities of the capitalist profit-driven system.


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