The negative impact by low-cost airlines on industry economy in general has been discussed in previous articles. The penny-saving ambitions has reached into every corner of aviation.
The FAA -and other regulators – has failed to employ enough competent inspectors. One reason is lack of funds, (and the other that most people that know anything about aviation are out there – flying). One negative result is that FAA was more or less forced to let aircraft manufacturers and airlines check on themselves. That in itself should not be a cause for concern, since all parties are serious operators and do not normally take undue advantage of this situation. And more money to FAA would not necessarily have altered the course that led to Boeings unfortunate predicament.
The fact that airlines are hard pressed for cash forces airplane manufacturers to make things economically attractive wherever they can. Lightweight lithium batteries made for better fuel economy. Nobody could see the grounding coming after some battery fires. The sales pitch that a new plane didn’t warrant extra pilot training was one of the reasons the plane sold so well. That some pilots in low-cost and third world airlines didn’t know how to handle oncoming malfunctions was a sad surprise to everyone. In all fairness better trained pilots never had the opportunity more than a few times to show they could handled it better, before the grounding hit hard.
The blood money syndrom is there to make sure this will be the safest plane ever when it takes to the skies (though nothing is 100% safe). The pilot training might be enhanced for a while, but the way pilots are employed in many non-regular airlines does not guarantee anything. Pilot training will continue to be expensive, and consequently one of the areas tempting some managements with savings efforts. The recent flow of industry information tells a story. Pilots suffer runway excursions, hard landings are more and more frequent (!),
and not staying airborne in planes with survivable malfunctions, exposed in frightening detail by AF447 and followed by a number of accidents, is becoming a cause for concern, to say the least. Even so, things are as safe as ever. 2019 is coming to a close with just one major fatal accident and a few mishaps like in Russia, where both engines were knocked out by birds and the pilots got a chance to perform a ”miracle in a corn field”. Even so again, the fact remains that the level of pilot skills are decreasing and will continue to do so, unless funds (passenger fees) are increased, or (utopia) a worldwide standard is set – and checked – that no creative management can circumvent.
Fixing a plane – and having it stay fixed – has been the pride of maintenance departments in most airlines. American mechanics have lately become more and more frustrated that overhaul, also by regular airlines, are moved to low-cost countries, where quality is not only harder to verify, but downright not good enough according to the mechanics union. The maintenance of LionAir’s 737 prior to the crash was obviously not good enough, but then again LionAir is as low-cost as they come. In this, and many cases, managements are pressing mechanics to sign off on work not done or not completed properly. The news flow tells again a story of maintenance issues, such as engine flame outs, and the ever present (a couple per week) smoke in the cabin, from engines leaking oil into pressurized bleed air (previous article).
Finally – to end the worries for now – the system ment to keep everything organized and separated, Air Traffic Control, are also affected by lack of funds and in some places understaffed and overworked. Whistleblowers tell stories of being harassed or fired when addressing dysfunctional situations, where fatigue is playing an increasing part.
Next fatal accident will be traceable to anyone, or a few combined, of the above, or some other cost-saving issues, like pilot fatigue or inadequate fuel reserves. Some might say ”We didn’t see it coming” which is reasonable, if you keep a blind eye to anything but your bottom line. Who to fly with, one might ask. Passengers cannot vote with their feet, not knowing much about anything. One way would be a check whether your pilots (there are always two – so far) are backed by a pilots union. Most regular airlines have them. You make better safety decisions, when your employment status is not jeopardized. (Previous article)