My first flight was as a passenger in a single-engine Comanche, flying from Michigan to Colorado. Then, the return flight.
I was young and so naïve that I asked the pilot where the parachutes were. When he stopped laughing, he explained there were none, and none were needed. At that point, I realized we passengers were at the mercy of the plane’s designers, the maintenance personnel, and ultimately fate.
I wasn’t afraid then, and in the years since – over the hundreds of flights and thousands of miles traveled – I’ve not been afraid to fly. I believed the people in charge of the industry and the equipment have done their job to keep passengers as safe as possible.
Make that past tense. I’m not so sure I feel the same now after the ongoing fiasco concerning the FAA, Boeing and the infamous 737 Max involving the deadly Lion Air and Ethiopian Air crashes.
As if there weren’t enough aspects of this story of this plane and the crashes, there is the fact that the United States was the last country in the world to ground all 737 Max flights. Why did it take so long? What role did politics play in the decision? The questions are out there and the answers haven’t yet been defined.
And by the way, do you know that even if the planes are “grounded,”
airlines can still fly them as long as there are no passengers on board, just a crew? That’s right. In fact, on March 26, a 737Max departed Orlando and had to return to the airport because of undefined engine problems. Officials say it had nothing to do with the suspected reason for the two major fatal crashes, but there was concern. The plane was being moved to Victorville, California for storage.
I’ve read most of the news coverage of the incident and they all seem to treat it as just a slight glitch.
But wait a minute.
If, on a flight from Florida to California, one of those “empty” planes ha the same problem that caused the crashes of the two commercial flights, where might that plane crash? What about the possibility of fatalities on the ground? Why isn’t that a concern to aviation officials? I haven’t seen one mention of that – and Southwest Airlines is in the midst of “moving” dozens of their planes on such flights.
What are other airlines doing, and how safe are people on the ground? Does anyone know? More importantly, does anyone care?
As for the two fatal crashes which killed 346 people, the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation, the Senate is investigating, the pilots unions are involved, the FAA is also in the mix and of course, so are Boeing and the various airlines which fly that plane. The problem is there’s so much money involved. The relations between government and Boeing is long and deep, and the financial future of Boeing is at stake, as they are losing orders for thousands of planes.
With all that, who knows when any of this will be resolved?
Given the new software on the plane, it’s become clear that pilots were not given the full training procedures that would be expected.
In fact, it’s reported by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association that there was no flight simulator – training was done on an iPad!
As reported in the Daily Mail, Greg Bowen, training and standards chair of the Southwest Pilots Association, said: “They were building the airplane and still designing it. … The data to build a simulator didn’t become available until about when the plane was ready to fly.”
Apparently the same situation existed for United Airlines, where a group of pilots put together a training manual without ever flying the plane or using a simulator.
Finding this out after the fact is chilling, especially since a 2012 audit revealed that the FAA gave Boeing great leverage in determining its own safety approvals.
The black-box inspections of both planes reveal that the new anti-stall system was involved in both crashes – with the computers not responding as the pilots tried to control the up and down movement of the planes before they crashed.
Can you imagine the horror of the passengers as they saw and felt what was happening to their plane and there was nothing they could do?
While there is much to be concerned about, the U.S. FAA and the European Aviation and Space Agency (EASA) can’t be let off the hook. They certified the plane as being “safe,” because “it said additional procedures and training would ‘clearly explain’ to pilots the ‘unusual situations in which the system might not work.'”
It’s been revealed that an American Airlines flight manual did not list those situations.
Ultimately the FAA and the EASA determined the set-up was safe enough for the plane to be certified.
A chilling report in the anchorage Daily News referenced the fact that ground investigators discovered the jackscrew from the Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX wreckage, and it was “deflected in an unusual position” which could have made the plane uncontrollable.
That report brought back memories of the fatal crash of Alaska Flight #261 in 2000; it was en route from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to San Francisco and Seattle. All 88 on board were killed.
It occurred off the Southern California coast in January of that year, when the jackscrew on the MD-83 failed because of a lack of lubrication. The part failure caused the plane to go into a dive, eventually plunging into the Pacific near Santa Barbara.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that the Federal Aviation administration had allowed Alaska to engage in risky maintenance practices.
That news report brought back horrific memories for me, because a woman I worked with was killed in that crash.
One part of the crash details that news coverage managed to omit was that because of the malfunction of the jack-screw, the plane was flying upside-down before it finally crashed into the ocean.
Talk about a horror for the passengers!
The other horror for passengers is the question, whom can we trust to do the right thing for our safety, if we choose to fly? There are serious questions about the integrity of the FAA, the NTSB, companies such as Boeing, and the airlines, which do maintenance.
Maybe until now, we’ve just been lucky.