Leadership, Engineering and Ethical Clashes at Boeing

Science and Engineering Ethics 27 (1):1-17 (2021)
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When there are disasters in our society, whether on an individual, organizational or systemic level, individuals or groups of individuals are often singled out for blame, and commonly it is assumed that the alleged culprits engaged in deliberate misdeeds. But sometimes, at least, these disasters occur not because of deliberate malfeasance, but rather because of complex organizational and systemic circumstances that result in these negative outcomes. Using the Boeing Corporation and its 737 MAX aircraft crashes as an example, this ethical analysis will examine some of the organizational problems that led to changes in management in Boeing and ultimately resulted in the fatal accidents. We will examine ethical blind spots within the company that led to the deadly accidents, and we will study the kinds of circumstances that are particularly acute in organizations such as Boeing, and which contributed to the malfunctions in the 737 MAX and the two resulting crashes. The Boeing 737 MAX example is not a singular case, but rather shares similarities with other engineering disasters such as the Challenger and Columbia explosions, and the ignition switch failures at General Motors each of which seem to have been at least partly the result of organizational shortcomings involving a compromise in commitment to safety. These parallels lead us to conclude that organizational malfeasance poses a serious ethical challenge for engineers and their organizations. We will conclude with some tentative suggestions for avoiding such tragic incidents in the future.



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Author Profiles

Elaine Englehardt
Utah Valley University
Patricia Werhane
DePaul University

References found in this work

Engineering ethics: concepts and cases.Charles Edwin Harris, Michael S. Pritchard & Michael Jerome Rabins - 2009 - Boston, MA: Cengage. Edited by Michael S. Pritchard, Ray W. James, Elaine E. Englehardt & Michael J. Rabins.

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