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Boeing: Is it still safe to fly on their planes after a string of high-profile incidents

Simon Calder’s Travel

Air safety 2023: Accidents and fatalities at record low” – that was the headline for the first article I wrote this year.

Only two fatal accidents had occurred during the previous 12 months. Both of them involved propeller aircraft on domestic flights. Each of the 86 deaths was a tragedy, but for comparison the same number of fatalities occurs in an average of 35 minutes on the world’s roads.

Two dramatic events early in the new year actually emphasised the extraordinary degree of safety built into modern jet aircraft. On 2 January an Airbus A350 landing at Tokyo Haneda airport burst into flames after striking a coastguard jet that had strayed onto the runway. While five aboard the smaller plane died, all 379 people aboard the Japan Airlines passenger jet successfully evacuated.

Three days later, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max took off from Portland, Oregon on a routine flight to Ontario in California. The plane, a Boeing 737 Max 9, climbed above 16,000 feet – higher than the summit of Mont Blanc. Suddenly, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, “the left mid exit door plug departed the airplane”.

An employee of the National Transportation Safety Board examines the stricken Alaska Airlines plane (NTSB/AFP via Getty Images)

Miraculously, while various passengers’ possessions also departed the airplane, all 177 passengers and crew remained aboard flight AS1282 until the aircraft landed back at Portland.

These terrifying incidents rest very differently in the minds of the travelling public. The Tokyo event revealed the professionalism of the Japan Airlines crew and the safety features of the latest Airbus jet.

But the Portland incident shone a light on shortcomings in the way Boeing builds its planes. All Boeing 737 Max 9s with the same door plug arrangement were grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Inspections revealed “loose hardware” and “bolts that needed additional tightening” on in-service aircraft.

‘We have to be better’

Although they are flying again, the deepening investigation has revealed some shocking shortcomings about Boeing’s manufacturing and inspection processes.

“We are not where we need to be,” said Stan Deal, then president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, 10 days after the Alaska Airlines scare. “To that end, we are taking immediate actions to…

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