Airplane safety: Is globalization a bad thing?

Still catching up on the Sunday papers, I just stumbled onto a piece in the Washington Post’s business section reporting that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation is taking the Federal Aviation Administration to task for using shoddy parts in some of today’s biggest plane models.

The folks over at Transportation are taking umbrage with the fact that many of these parts used to be made exclusively in the U.S., but now happen to be made overseas, since – ah, the fact of globalization – it is often cheaper to make things in foreign countries than at home.

The government says the FAA “lacks an adequate system for checking the quality of airplane components,” the Post reports.

What are the plane models in question? Parts of Boeing’s 777 (and its planned 787) are made abroad, in places like China, Brazil and Australia.

The Post quotes from the report: “Neither manufacturers nor FAA inspectors have provided effective oversight of suppliers; this has allowed substandard parts to enter the aviation supply chain.”

Apparently the report is citing engine failures in 2003 – a total of four, including one in flight – that can be traced back to questionable, foreign-manufactured parts.

It is of course ironic when you consider the role the airplane has played in making this world a smaller (not to say, pace Thomas Friedman, flatter) place and how the free flow of goods and services from one corner of the globe to the other wouldn’t be possible without them. Globalization owes a lot to the airplane (among other things), and now the very phenomenon planes helped wrought might be undermining their safety (and ours)?

FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette tells the Post, “There are absolutely no imminent safety issues raised by the report.”

But we’ve been warned…