In the 1980s, package holidays were often undertaken by elderly, second, third or even fourth hand aircraft. My friends and I would usually fly from Gatwick Airport and fly to Greece or France with the long defunct airline Dan Air who operated mainly a fleet of Boeing 737s and 727s. The latter was an odd looking plane, with three engines, all of which were located at the back. I would think to myself, “This plane is so old, it can’t be fit to fly. I wish I was getting on a new plane.” I should have thought, “If this plane is so old and unsafe, how come it is still flying?”
I mention this following the tragic crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max, hot on the heels of the loss of the Lion Air 737 max in Indonesia late last year. These planes were far from geriatric: they were straight from the production line.
I am not going to pretend I possess in-depth knowledge about how a jet aircraft works. However, until last October I believed that modern planes didn’t simply fall out of the sky. So many fail safe features were built in to their design, especially regarding its technological aspects, they simply couldn’t crash. So, how come two brand new, state-of-the-art have fallen out of the sky. In keeping with my normal writing practice, I have no clue as to why they did.
Most plane crashes have an element of human error in their causes, whether that be due to errors with maintenance or pilot error. But what if countless fail safe devices are put in place and the crew tries, possibly by accident, to overrule the technology or simply don’t understand it? Quite simply, we don’t know.
On a flight from Portugal last year, we found ourselves on an Airbus A320 neo, a plane that was literally two months out of the factory. It was by some distance the quietest plane I had ever flown on, I felt safer than ever. Much better than some old codger of an aircraft that had been around for 30 years or more. But was it?
Air travel remains safer than it has ever been. The crashes of Ethiopian and Lion airlines planes will almost certainly bring about changes that will make it safer still. I won’t feel any less safe from now on but it does remind me that the path to perfection is dotted by unexpected obstacles. I hope they discover the solution to this obstacle as soon as possible.