Engineering Ethics and the Boeing Scandal - Ethics Revealed (2023)

When college professors have a bad day, their students don't learn as much that day. When engineers have a bad day, many people can die and significant environmental damage can be caused: think of the Volkswagen emissions control scandal, the Deepwater Horizon fire, the Kansas City Hyatt sidewalk collapse, the space shuttle Challenger explosion, the Ford Pinto fires and the General Motors ignition switch disaster.

Many of these disasters are caused by ethical errors, so it is good that several books on engineering ethics have been published recently, includingEngineering ethics: contemporary and ongoing debates(2020) de Deborah G. Johnson,ethics for engineers(2020) by Martin Peterson andEthics and technology: an introduction(2021) by Behnam Taebi. While each of these texts lacks a section on behavioral ethics, which we consider a weakness, all three are essentially excellent. However, the most instructive book on engineering ethics to be published recently is probably Peter Robison's new book on the Boeing 737 MAX scandal:Flying Blind: The tragedy of the 737 MAX and the sinking of Boeing(2021).

When we started reading this book, we really liked Boeing. Aircraft design involves tens of thousands of decisions, most of which involve cost and safety considerations. A single wrong decision can cost lives and appear unethical in retrospect. But by the time we finished reading the book, our sympathy had evaporated.

According to Robison, and he tells a compelling story, Boeing has long been one of the most admired companies in the world, in large part because it was run by engineers with a technical point of view. As the three textbooks mentioned above point out, the first of the six fundamental canons of the National Society of Professional Engineers' code of ethics is that engineers should: "Priority must be given to the safety, health, and welfare of the public." ". Robison explains that Boeing's demise began when it merged with McDonnell Douglas in 1997 and leadership of the newly combined company shifted from the engineers who ran Boeing to the financial engineers who once ran McDonnell Douglas. Engineers were sidelined in many ways, and the focus of the new company shifted significantly from passenger safety to shareholder value.

This shift in focus had a number of unfortunate repercussions, none worse than its impact on the launch of the 737 MAX. In 2010, Boeing needed a new aircraft to face competition from a new version of the popular Airbus A320. In order not to lose a large share of the market overnight, Boeing promised airlines that it would produce a new version of its popular 737 with more powerful and fuel-efficient engines.

Rather than spend the $20 billion it would take to produce an entirely new plane, Boeing has budgeted just $2.5 billion to overhaul the 737, touting a "media with a purpose" approach. Robison notes that from 2010 to 2014, then-CEO Jim McNerney made no mention of safety in the company's annual proxy statements, despite design issues with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner's new lithium-ion batteries that threatened passenger safety in 2013.

Instead of refocusing on passenger safety, McNerney doubled down on profitability with an emphasis on "more for less." Managers told engineers that under no circumstances should they make changes that would require pilots familiar with the current 737 to require flight simulator training to fly the MAX. Boeing had promised Southwest Airlines that it would pay $1 million per plane if such expensive training was required to fly the MAX.

(Video) Inside the Boeing 737 MAX Scandal That Rocked Aviation | WSJ

The main design change was that the newer and larger engines were mounted forward of the wings instead of below them. A simulation test in the wind tunnel showed that, in certain situations, the MAX has a tendency to climb, which creates the risk of stalling in flight. A hardware repair would have been preferable but more expensive, so Boeing opted for a software repair, borrowing an "MCAS" system from a tanker it was already selling. Boeing also stated that this was not a new role, just a modification of the original 737 system, so little new training was required. The pilots were not properly trained, were not clearly informed of the design flaw, and were not told how to react when the MCAS system was activated.

As the MAX flight manual was "insufficiently inadequate" to alert pilots to the MAX's pitch problem and how to deal with an emergency, when the MCAS software activated and the aircraft repeated shortly after takeoff forced a dive, two MAX planes crashed killing 346 people.

The principles of behavioral ethics can help explain this catastrophe.

marco.The way people make the decisions they face has a lot to do with the decisions they make. After the McDonnel-Douglas merger, Boeing executives focused relentlessly on cutting costs, profits, and stock prices at the expense of safety. This has repeatedly translated into cost-effective and safety-compromising design choices for the 747 MAX. Engineers were prohibited from making design changes that cost large sums of money or required significant pilot training. Often the work was outsourced to less qualified companies. Instead of spending the money that would have increased security, Boeing invested 80% of its leftover cash in share buybacks, generating lots of money for shareholders and executives alike.

obedience to authority.People tend to obey authority, especially when disobedience has adverse consequences. Engineers demanding further testing or security enhancements were repeatedly warned "in a very blunt and [in] sinister manner" that their salaries would be at risk if deadlines and cost savings were not met. In recent years, Boeing CEOs, including McNerney, have often emphasized their power and ability to intimidate employees.

.Several Boeing employees involved in the development and testing of the 737 MAX have said they would not fly the MAX or allow their families to fly it, but have not taken active steps to prevent commercialization. This seems to be a manifestation of the phenomenon of the tangible and abstract, according to which people's decision-making is more influenced by factors close in time and space (their own safety, the safety of their family, the financial situation of Boeing) than by factors closer in time and space. distant and intangible factors. (the still nameless and faceless passengers whoI couldbe injured in a future plane crash).

(Video) Inside the Boeing 737 Max Scandal

selfish bias.People tend to make decisions that serve their own interests. Due to ongoing pressure from management to emphasize cost savings and stick to the company line, engineers who should have mandated safety practices have not. They did not want to risk their jobs. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials should have talked too, but they were often rewarded not for making passengers safer, but for helping Boeing get its planes to market on time.

conflicts of interest.Boeing and others in the industry successfully lobbied Congress to pass legislation that largely neutralized the FAA as a regulatory agency. Boeing has been given the power to "self-certify" and functionally score its own exams. FAA officials had very little authority to overrule Boeing's decisions. Boeing management did not hesitate to use the company's considerable political influence to force the FAA into submission. He also frequently threatened the FAA, flooding it with vast amounts of documents and using what he called "Jedi mind tricks" to mislead the agency. Boeing had a duty to keep passengers safe, which conflicted with its duty to make money for shareholders. Often he chose the latter.

arrogance.Human beings are subject to botharroganceIs aBiased by excess of optimism.The first involves an overconfidence in one's own abilities and judgment. A reading of Robison's book reveals this overconfidence of virtually every Boeing CEO described. The latter includes undue confidence that things will work and Boeing's conclusion that the 747 MAX was safe (evenafter thisthe two accidents with 346 deaths) is a concrete example.

Engineers often have to make decisions that involve tradeoffs between cost and safety. But when they're embedded in a corporate culture that prioritizes profit over safety and punishes those who disagree, bad things often happen. 346 people died. As pilot and software engineer Gregory Travis wrote: "Today, security doesn't come first: money comes first, and the only use of security in that sense is to help keep money flowing." of professional ethics for engineers. And it ends up being expensive. Robison reports that the direct cost to Boeing of the 737 MAX scandal in the form of customer compensation, aircraft storage, pilot training and settlements with families of passengers was $21 billion. And if Boeing's mistakes prevent customers from returning, the losses could reach $65 billion.


Elaine Englehardt et al., „Leadership, Engineering and Ethical Clashes at Boeing“,ethics in science and technology, 27: __ – __ (2021).

Joseph Herkert et al., „The Boeing 737 MAX: Lessons for Engineering Ethics“,ethics in science and technology26: 2957-2974 (2020).

(Video) The real reason Boeing's new plane crashed twice

Debora Johnson,Engineering Ethics: Contemporary and Enduring Debates (2020) by Deborah G. Johnson, Ethics for Engineers(2020).

Bess Levin, "Boeing trained 737 Max pilots on iPads to save money",vanity fair, March 18, 2019.

Martin Petersen,ethics for engineers(2020).

Pedro Robson,Flying Blind: The tragedy of the 737 MAX and the sinking of Boeing(2021).

Chesley („Sully“) Sullenberger, „Carta ao Editor“,New York Times, 12. October 2019.

behnam taebi,Ethics and technology: an introduction(2021).

(Video) "Ethics in Engineering" - Michael Delaney and Marlene Yamashita, Boeing

Gregory Travis, "What the Boeing 737 MAX Disaster Looks Like to a Software Developer"IEEE spectrum, 18. April 2019, a

Jerry Useem, "The long-forgotten flight that blew Boeing off course"the atlantic, 20. November 2019.


Conflicts of interest:


Obedience to authority:



Selfish bias:

Tangible and abstract:


Is the solution provided by Boeing adequate explain your answer? ›

The solution provided by Boeing in no way was adequate because it was their responsibility to make sure that everything was sound and secure because they took care of 96% of their certification.

What is the engineering ethics Boeing violated? ›

In addition to pointing to engineering codes, Peterson (2019) argues that Boeing engineers and managers violated widely accepted ethical norms such as informed consent and the precautionary principle.

What ethical principle did Boeing use in dealing with the problem? ›

The Precautionary Principle

From this epistemic premise, he inferred that it was too early to take action. For several days, the Federal Aviation Administration agreed with this policy. The regulators claimed that foreign civil-aviation authorities had not “provided data to us that would warrant action.”

What Boeing could have said in reply to the crisis? ›

Moreover, the frame seems to miss the point that hundreds of human lives have been lost, that more may be at risk and that regulators in many countries have grounded the planes. So what could Boeing have said? A better frame would be: “This is a technical problem that we do not fully understand.

Is it Downfall The case against Boeing documentary? ›

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is a 2022 American documentary film directed by Rory Kennedy.

Who made Downfall The case against Boeing? ›

'Downfall' Director Rory Kennedy On How She Deployed CGI To Show How Boeing's 737 Max Aircraft Went Horribly Wrong.

What happens if an engineer breaks the code of ethics? ›

Failing to comply with the engineering board's ethics requirements can lead to disciplinary action and loss of reputation.

What are the main ethical problems that are faced by engineers? ›

Safety • Acceptable risk • Compliance • Confidentiality • Environmental health • Data integrity • Conflict of interest • Honesty/Dishonesty • Societal impact • Fairness • Accounting for uncertainty, etc.

What are the major issues in engineering ethics? ›

The ethics that an engineer should possess to protect the safety, health and welfare of the public, etc. are described under conceptual inquiries. It describes what safety is and mentions the marginal issues of safety along with the precautions an engineer should take to avoid risk.

What is Boeing's code of ethics? ›

Code of Conduct—Our Shared Commitment

Across our global enterprise, Boeing employees are united by a shared commitment to our values—safety, quality, integrity, and transparency—above all else. We believe that compliance and ethical behavior are everyone's responsibility.

What are the 4 main ethical principles? ›

The Fundamental Principles of Ethics. Beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice constitute the 4 principles of ethics. The first 2 can be traced back to the time of Hippocrates “to help and do no harm,” while the latter 2 evolved later.

What is the biggest lesson in crisis communication from the Boeing 737 crisis? ›

The most important thing in crisis communications is to keep calm. Explain the situation to people internally, gather the facts, and try and get your information out as quickly and as accurately as you possibly can.

Did Boeing have to pay the families? ›

As a result, Boeing agreed to establish a $500 million fund to compensate the families of those who died, pay a fine of nearly $244 million and pay $1.77 billion in compensation to airlines.

Did Boeing ever get punished? ›

Boeing To Pay $2.5 Billion Settlement Over Deadly 737 Max Crashes. Investigators found that both crashes were caused in part by a flawed automated flight control system called MCAS.

What went wrong at Boeing documentary? ›

As we learn in the film, both crashes were caused by a faulty sensor on the aircraft triggering the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), aircraft software that Boeing installed to help pilots keep the aircraft from stalling.

What has Boeing done wrong? ›

It's been widely reported that Boeing's decision to use a flight control software fix known as MCAS in its 737 MAX planes was one of the key factors that led to two crashes that killed 346 people.

Did the families of the Boeing crashes get any compensation? ›

Boeing agreed a $2.5bn (£1.86bn) settlement in January with the US Department of Justice in fines and compensation, which included a $500m fund to compensate families of the 346 victims of both 737 Max crashes.

Did the families sue Boeing? ›

The January 2021 agreement included a $500 million compensation fund for victims' relatives, $1.77 billion in compensation to the airlines and a $243 million criminal fine.

Was Boeing criminally charged? ›

The case was initiated in January 2021, when a criminal information was filed simultaneously with a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). The information charges Boeing with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.

Who got the 2.5 billion from Boeing? ›

Boeing agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in a legal settlement with the Justice Department stemming from the 737 Max debacle, the government said on Thursday.

What is an acceptable punishment for a code of ethics violation? ›

Per the Code of Ethics and Arbitration manual, sanctions for a violation may include: A fine not to exceed $5,000. A letter of reprimand. The requirement that the respondent attend an education course.

What happens if you don't follow the code of ethics? ›

Breaking the code of ethics can result in termination or dismissal from the organization. A code of ethics is important because it clearly lays out the rules for behavior and provides the groundwork for a preemptive warning.

What would be the consequences if you don't follow the codes of ethics? ›

Unethical behaviour has serious consequences for both individuals and organizations. You can lose your job and reputation, organizations can lose their credibility, general morale and productivity can decline, or the behaviour can result in significant fines and/or financial loss.

What are the 7 principles of ethics in engineering? ›

honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, fidelity, fairness, respect for others, responsible citizenship, pursuit of excellence and accountability.”

What are the two types of engineering ethics? ›

(1) Virtue ethics is appropriate to the engineer who engineers the engineered. It asks how the engineer can be good in a moral sense. (2) Conceptual ethics is appropriate to engineering, which aims at the production of the engineered and requires the engagement of engineers.

What are engineering ethics explain with example? ›

Engineering ethics is the field of system of moral principles that apply to the practice of engineering. The field examines and sets the obligations by engineers to society, to their clients, and to the profession.

Why is engineering ethics so important? ›

Engineers, like all other professions, require integrity and honesty in their jobs. Codes of ethics enable them to be accountable for their actions. They act as guiding principles for determining what is right or wrong. A code of ethics for engineers ensures that they remain honest in all their transactions.

What is the purpose of engineering ethics? ›

The purpose of engineering ethics is to identify specific ethical issues that may arise in order to avoid a potential problem. Past ethical or technical issues can help engineers to learn from both previous failures and successes.

What are the 5 points of ethics? ›

The revised Code establishes a conceptual framework for all professional accountants to ensure compliance with the five fundamental principles of ethics:
  • Integrity.
  • Objectivity.
  • Professional Competence and Due Care.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Professional Behavior.

What are the 6 code of ethics? ›

The following broad ethical principles are based on social work's core values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence.

What are the 10 codes of ethics? ›

Whether you go long or short, here are 10 sections you might include in your code of ethics statement:
  • Our Mission.
  • Purpose Statement.
  • Privacy and Security.
  • Fairness & Consistency.
  • Health & Safety.
  • Harassment, Discrimination & Bullying.
  • Key Values (or pillars of ethics)
  • Professionalism & Office Conduct.
17 Sept 2021

What are the major ethical issues that business faces today 2022? ›

Examples of ethical issues in business
  • Discrimination and harassment. ...
  • Workplace health and safety. ...
  • Whistle-blowing or social media rants. ...
  • Ethics in accounting practices. ...
  • Corporate espionage and nondisclosure. ...
  • Technology and privacy practices. ...
  • Nepotism or favouritism. ...
  • Environmental responsibility.
7 Dec 2021

What is the biggest ethical issue facing companies today? ›

Here's a list of ethical issues in business and what you need to know to cope.
  1. Discrimination and Harassment. Harassment and discrimination are arguably the most prominent contemporary ethical issues in business today. ...
  2. Abuse of Leadership. ...
  3. Compliance. ...
  4. Accounting. ...
  5. Employee Theft. ...
  6. Social Media. ...
  7. Data Privacy. ...
  8. Nepotism.
17 Jun 2022

What is ethical issues examples? ›

Ethical issues in the workplace are defined as instances in which a moral quandary arises and must be resolved within an organization. Unethical accounting, harassment, health and safety, technology, privacy, social media, and discrimination are the five primary types of ethical issues in the workplace.

What are the 3 golden rules of ethics? ›

Do good to others as you would like good to be done to you. Regard bad for yourself whatever you regard bad for others. Accept that (treatment) from others which you would like others to accept from you...

What are the 3 rules of ethics? ›

Three basic principles, among those generally accepted in our cultural tradition, are particularly relevant to the ethics of research involving human subjects: the principles of respect of persons, beneficence and justice.

What are basic ethics? ›

The expression "basic ethical principles" refers to those general judgments that serve as a basic justification for the many particular ethical prescriptions and evaluations of human actions.

What makes Boeing successful? ›

Boeing produces commercial and military aircraft, weapons systems, strategic defense and intelligence systems, and related products and services. The Defense, Space and Security unit has overtaken Commercial Airplanes as Boeing's largest revenue source. The U.S. government is one of Boeing's largest customers.

How does Boeing measure success? ›

Boeing defines it as the company's net operating profit after taxes, minus a capital charge.

What is Boeing doing for the environment? ›

We've reduced emissions by 15%-25% in each new generation of Boeing airplane compared to the generation before. Our airplanes are 90% recyclable by weight for part reuse and scrap. We've tested more than 230 environmentally smarter technologies through the Boeing ecoDemonstrator program.

Who did Boeing blame? ›

Cost-cutting, corporate arrogance, and a new plane that was supposed to be easy to fly. An exclusive excerpt from Flying Blind: The 737 Max Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing.

What did Boeing lie about? ›

Boeing earlier settled a criminal case brought by the federal government. Lawyers for the Justice Department argued that Mr. Forkner had lied to the F.A.A. about flight control software used on the Max that was implicated in two crashes, which killed 346 people.

What caused the downfall of Boeing? ›

Boeing traced this to a software failure: an erroneous activation of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), new to the 737 Max. Pilots could have switched it off, had they known it existed.

Has Boeing safety improved? ›

Despite the two fatal accidents involving the Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2019 and 2020, the aviation industry has been the safest it has ever been. For the last 100 years, engineers and safety experts have worked hard to improve aircraft reliability and safety at all levels.

What are the values of Boeing? ›

Our Values
  • At Boeing, we are honored to serve all the people who rely on our products and services every day. ...
  • Start with engineering excellence. ...
  • Be accountable — from beginning to end. ...
  • Apply Lean principles.
  • Eliminate traveled work.
  • Reward predictability and stability — everywhere in our business.
  • How we act.

What are the three 3 factors that affect aircraft performance? ›

Pressure, temperature, and humidity have a great influence on aircraft performance because of their effect upon density.

Who is Boeing's biggest customer? ›

At 75 aircraft orders, Ryanair was Boeing's largest customer in 2020.
Boeing aircraft orders as of December 31, 2020, by major customer.
CharacteristicNumber of aircraft orders
Virgin Australia Airlines25
10 more rows
12 Jul 2022

What are some of Boeing's guiding principles? ›

Safety, quality, integrity, and transparency must be at the forefront as we design, build, and service our products. We live these values by holding ourselves to the highest standards of conduct in how we do our work, and how we treat one another.

Is Boeing an ethical company? ›

Across our global enterprise, Boeing employees are united by a shared commitment to our values—safety, quality, integrity, and transparency—above all else. We believe that compliance and ethical behavior are everyone's responsibility.

Is Boeing socially responsible? ›

Boeing Corporate Social Responsibility programs focus on promoting social and environmental sustainability in three key areas, namely: environmental sustainability, global & community engagement, and diversity & inclusion.

What companies destroy the environment the most? ›

Climate Crisis - What can I do?
  • BP. Fossil fuel giant BP changed their name to Beyond Petroleum and publicly added solar panels on their gas stations. ...
  • ExxonMobil. Oil giant ExxonMobil has a long history of damaging the environment. ...
  • Nestlé ...
  • Coca-Cola. ...
  • Starbucks. ...
  • IKEA. ...
  • Plastic Bottle Water Companies. ...
  • Major Banks.
17 Jul 2022


1. Boeing suffers two fatal crashes in five months. Are they putting profits before safety?
(The Newsmakers)
2. Boeing Manager Says He Warned Company Of Problems Months Before 737 Max Crashes | NBC Nightly News
(NBC News)
3. Report: Ethics complaint claims Boeing put profits ahead of safety before 737 MAX crashes
(KING 5)
4. Engineering Ethics Course Part 1 - What is this thing called “Ethics”?
(Blue Elephant Consulting)
5. What is an Ethical Dilemma?
(ScienceABC II)
6. Boeing's Disgraceful Downfall Explained
(Wall Street Millennial)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Chrissy Homenick

Last Updated: 08/26/2023

Views: 5637

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Chrissy Homenick

Birthday: 2001-10-22

Address: 611 Kuhn Oval, Feltonbury, NY 02783-3818

Phone: +96619177651654

Job: Mining Representative

Hobby: amateur radio, Sculling, Knife making, Gardening, Watching movies, Gunsmithing, Video gaming

Introduction: My name is Chrissy Homenick, I am a tender, funny, determined, tender, glorious, fancy, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.