There’s a reason Dominic Gates has stayed on the same beat at The Seattle Times for 16 years. The aerospace reporter says he’s fortunate to cover people across a wide spectrum of perspectives and life experiences: white collar engineers, blue collar manufacturers, corporate executives, scientists.
“My expertise comes from all the people I talk to,” Gates told All Things Considered host Ed Ronco in an interview about his Northwest aerospace coverage. “I like the people of Boeing.”
And people are at the center of the recent crisis following a series of safety concerns with the company’s 737 Max aircraft series. Two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia sparked international concern that grounded the planes while Boeing officials and federal regulators address safety risks for the rest of the fleet.
“A lot of Boeing people, whether they are people on production lines building the planes or the engineers who designed it, are incredibly concerned about this crisis,” Gates said. “Everybody who works at Boeing fly on airplanes themselves. They put their children and their families on airplanes. It’s not like they don’t think about this. When something like this happens, I think it really hits them in the gut.”
In the aftermath of the 737 Max crashes, Gates has done extensive reporting on the response of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration. Questions about certification lie at the center of that coverage.
“The structure has changed dramatically over the years, and I think perhaps it’s gone too far toward self-certification,” Gates said, noting that delegating work to manufacturers is common practice in the United States. People tasked with ushering the certification process currently work within and are paid by Boeing, and there’s a growing urge to shift those employees back under FAA supervision as it was previously done.
“It’s not that they disregard safety,” Gates said of the current Boeing certification workers. “But they’re very focused on the schedule and doing things on time and doing things within the budget.”
Listen to the full conversation above to hear more about aviation certification, the history of Boeing in the Northwest and the human element behind the company’s effort to improve the safety of its flagship aircraft.