With all the recent headlines about panels and tires falling off planes, is flying safe?

With all the recent headlines about panels and tires falling off planes, is flying safe?

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DALLAS (AP) — It's been 15 years since the last fatal crash of a U.S. airliner, but you'd never know it from reading about a spate of flight problems in the past three months.

DALLAS (AP) — It's been 15 years since the last fatal accident of an American airliner, but you'd never know it from reading about a spate of flight problems over the past three months.

There was a time when things like cracked windshields and minor engine problems didn't appear in the news very often.

That changed in January, when a panel covered the space reserved for an unused emergency door. blew out an Alaska Airlines plane at 16,000 feet over Oregon. The pilots landed the Boeing 737 Max safely, but in the United States, media coverage of the flight quickly overshadowed a Fatal accident on Tokyo runway three days before.

And the concern for air safety, especially with boeing airplanes —has not stopped.

Is flying becoming more dangerous?

By the simplest measure, the answer is no. The last fatal crash involving a U.S. airliner occurred in February 2009, a streak of unprecedented safety. There was 9.6 million flights last year.

He lack of fatal accidents However, it does not fully reflect the security state. In the last 15 months, a avalanche of close situations It caught the attention of regulators and travelers.

Another measure is the number of times pilots transmit an emergency call to air traffic controllers. Flightradar24, a popular tracking site, has just compiled the numbers. Data from the site shows that these types of calls have increased since mid-January, but remain below levels seen for much of 2023.

Emergency calls are also an imperfect indicator: the plane it might not have been in immediate danger, and sometimes planes in trouble never alert controllers.

SAFER THAN DRIVING

The National Safety Council estimates that Americans have a one in 93 chance of dying in a car accident, while airplane deaths are too rare to calculate the probabilities. figures of the US Department of Transportation tell a similar story.

“This is the safest form of transportation ever created, while around 737 people die on the country's roads every day,” said Richard Aboulafia, a veteran aerospace analyst and consultant. The safety council estimates that more than 44,000 people died in car accidents in the United States in 2023.

BUT A SAFETY MARGIN IS REDUCED

A panel of experts reported in November that a shortage of air traffic controllers, outdated aircraft tracking technology and other problems presented a growing threat to safety in the skies.

“The current erosion of the safety margin in (the national airspace system) caused by the confluence of these challenges is making the current level of safety unsustainable,” the group said in a 52 page report.

WHAT IS HAPPENING AT BOEING?

Many, but not all, of the recent incidents have involved Boeing aircraft.

Boeing is a $78 billion company, a leading US exporter and a century-old company, iconic name in aircraft manufacturing. It is half of the duopoly, along with the European Airbus, that dominates the production of large passenger aircraft.

The company's reputation, however, was greatly damaged by the falls in two 737 Max aircraft – one In Indonesia in 2018, the other in Ethiopia the following year, it killed 346 people. Boeing has lost almost $24 billion over the past five years. It has struggled with manufacturing glitches that sometimes delayed deliveries of long-haul 737s and 787 Dreamliners.

Boeing was finally starting to recover your step to the Alaska Airlines Max Burst. Investigators have focused on the bolts that help secure the door latch panel, but they were missing after repair work at the Boeing factory.

The FBI is notify passengers about a criminal investigation. He Federal Aviation Administration is stepping up oversight of the company.

“What is happening with production at Boeing? There have been problems in the past. “They don't seem to be resolved.” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker he said last month.

CEO David Calhoun says that regardless of the conclusions investigators reach about the Alaska Airlines explosion, “Boeing is responsible for what happened” on the Alaska plane. “We caused the problem and we understand it.”

WHERE DO DESIGN AND MANUFACTURING FIT?

The problems attributed to an aircraft manufacturer can vary greatly.

Some are design errors. In the original Boeing Max, the failure of a single sensor caused a flight control system to point the plane's nose downward with great force; that happened before the fatal Max crashes of 2018 and 2019. It is a maxim in aviation that the failure of a single part should never be enough to bring down a plane.

In other cases, such as the door stopper panel that flew off the Alaska Airlines plane, it appears a mistake was made at the factory.

“Anything that results in death is worse, but design is much more difficult to address because you have to locate the problem and fix it,” said Aboulafia, the aerospace analyst. “In the manufacturing process, the fix is ​​incredibly easy – don't do whatever caused the defect in the first place.

Manufacturing quality also appears to be an issue in other incidents.

Earlier this month, the FAA proposed ordering airlines to inspect the wire bundles around the spoilers on Max planes. The order was prompted by a report that chafing electrical wires due to faulty installation caused a passenger plane to spin 30 degrees in less than a second on a 2021 flight.

Even the little things matter. After a LATAM Airlines Boeing 787 flying from Australia to New Zealand this month plummeted (it recovered), Boeing reminded airlines to inspect the switches on the engines that move pilots' seats. Published reports said that a flight attendant accidentally pressing the switch likely caused the dive.

NOT EVERYTHING IS BOEING'S FAULT

Investigations into some incidents point to probable maintenance failures, and many of the close calls are due to errors by pilots or air traffic controllers.

This week, investigators revealed that an American Airlines plane that overshot a runway in Texas had undergone brake replacement work four days earlier, and some brake hydraulic lines were damaged. not put back correctly.

Earlier this month, a the tire fell off A United Airlines Boeing 777 leaving San Francisco and an American Airlines 777 made an emergency landing in Los Angeles with a flat tire.

A piece of the aluminum skin was discovered to be missing when a United Boeing 737 He landed in Oregon last week. Unlike the new Alaska plane that suffered the panel explosion, the United plane was 26 years old. Maintenance depends on the airline.

When a FedEx cargo plane landed last year in Austin, Texas, passed close to the top of a Southwest Airlines plane taking off, it turned out that an air traffic controller had cleared both planes to use the same track.

SEPARATE THE SERIOUS FROM THE ROUTINE

Aviation industry officials say the most concerning events involve problems with flight controls, engines and structural integrity.

Other things like cracked windshield and planes crashing into each other at the airport rarely pose a safety threat. Warning lights can indicate a serious problem or a false alarm.

“We take every event seriously,” said former NTSB member John Goglia, citing that vigilance as a contributing factor to the current accident-free streak. “The challenge we have in aviation is trying to keep it there.”

David Koenig, Associated Press




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