The Boeing 737 MAX: Lessons for Engineering Ethics

TitleThe Boeing 737 MAX: Lessons for Engineering Ethics
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsHerkert, J, Borenstein, J, Miller, K
JournalScience and Engineering Ethics
Date PublishedOct-07-2020
ISSN Number1353-3452
AbstractThe crash of two 737 MAX passenger aircraft in late 2018 and early 2019, and subsequent grounding of the entire fleet of 737 MAX jets, turned a global spotlight on Boeing’s practices and culture. Explanations for the crashes include: design flaws within the MAX’s new flight control software system designed to prevent stalls; internal pressure to keep pace with Boeing’s chief competitor, Airbus; Boeing’s lack of transparency about the new software; and the lack of adequate monitoring of Boeing by the FAA, especially during the certification of the MAX and following the first crash. While these and other factors have been the subject of numerous government reports and investigative journalism articles, little to date has been written on the ethical significance of the accidents, in particular the ethical responsibilities of the engineers at Boeing and the FAA involved in designing and certifying the MAX. Lessons learned from this case include the need to strengthen the voice of engineers within large organizations. There is also the need for greater involvement of professional engineering societies in ethics-related activities and for broader focus on moral courage in engineering ethics education.