A crisis of confidence

March 11th, 2019

Oil rigs will explode, food will be recalled and, unfortunately, air planes will crash.

But, last week’s tragedy of an Air Ethiopian Airlines flight with the loss of 157 lives was, if not expected, then not unexpected – planes will crash.

What makes it a real crisis is that it was a very new plane  of the latest design from Boeing.

The crisis has not been caused by the accident itself, but by the fact that it was almost a mirror image of the Lion Air crash off the Philippines last year. The same plane and the same timing – the crash coming early into the flight.

The Boeing  737 MAX 8is a state-of-the-art aircraft and a workhorse for the industry. To date 300 have been delivered and a further 5,000 are on order.

China has just grounded 80 of planes. No doubt, crisis management teams of every airline in the world are now trying to measure their response.

The real crisis is not with Ethiopian Airlines or its owner, the Government, who gave a sympathetic and quick response.

It is with Boeing. Their response to date has been sympathetic but measured.

This is Boeing’s response as of this morning.

March 10, 2019 – Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Fine, but it does not deal with the elephant in the room – the other crash in the Philippines. The black box from that incident seems to suggest that the pilots were ‘fighting’ the autopilot system and this was a factor in that crash. The investigations continue.

Sure, the two tragedies could be totally unrelated – lightning can strike in the same spot twice. And Boeing are probably constrained by legal issues in what they can say.

Meantime, the shares are off 10% in early trading. Not surprisingly.

But ask yourself this question: you are about to fly tomorrow; would you take a sneaky peek to see what type of aircraft it is? (There is already a cottage industry on the Web where you can check it out.) And if its a Boeing 737 Max 8, would you think about changing that flight?

The black box from Ethiopia has now been recovered. Investigations take time but this one must be given priority for the mental as well as physical health of all those who fly on the new 737.

Flying is all about confidence. Lose it and you lose everything.

Tom Curtin

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