During the last four weeks a few things have happened to commercial passenger aircraft. (Any other four random weeks would show basically the same result.) The malfunctions have had various degree of severity, but common to all of them, is the fact that no harm has come to any of the thousands of passengers onboard these aircraft. Let’s look at the list of snags in order to get a better picture.
Smoke onboard – 17 cases Runway excursions – 10 cases Engine problems – 8 cases Loss of cabin pressure – 7 cases Landing gear problems – 7 cases Engine shutdowns – 6 cases Flat tyre – 5 cases Fire onboard – 5 cases Cracked windshield – 5 cases Severe/wake turbulence – 4 cases Flap problem – 3 cases Hydraulic fail – 3 cases Lightning strike – 2 cases Bird strike – 2 cases One case each of autopilot fail, electrical fail, wind shear, brake problem, fuel leak and a navigational system fault.
All in all some 90 emergencies (3/day) that could have caused great harm, had they not been handled by adequately trained crews. (The two most common faults are addressed in previous articles, as is pilot training). The sad thing is that the latest two fatal accidents, causing the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX, were avoidable, had only the crews involved been better trained. You don’t do pilot errors on purpose. You do errors if you are sloppy or complacent. You do errors if you are too fatigued to think straight. And then – the really sad cases – when you do your best, but have not been educated to handle that particularly emergency. Several fatal accidents the last few years (the more spectacular ones Air France over the South Atlantic, Asiana in San Fransisco and now the two Boeing accidents) points in the same direction. Airlines and governing authorities rely on automation, and should automation occasionally fail, that there is a pilot as a last resort, to handle the situation, but they do not provide enough resources for that kind of pilot training.
Pilot training is of course very expensive, and the no-need of such training when transferring pilots to a new aircraft type was one of the sales arguments Boeing used to airline managements, making them log a staggering 5000 orders. Cutting costs is of course imperative in todays pressed economy and some airlines actually call them selves low-cost airlines. That might prove a judgement error, should the flying public start to wonder just where they cut the costs.