Is Air Travel Safe?
In a span of 5 months, Boeing’s best-selling 737 Max jet has been involved in two fatal crashes, bringing into question the safety of Boeing jets as well as flying as a whole. The two accidents occurred in Indonesia and Ethiopia, resulting in 189 and 157 deaths, respectively. These incidents have sparked a worldwide conversation about airplane safety:
“Is flying safe after the Boeing 737 Max crashes?” - Quartz
“What Happens When an Air Travel Brand Becomes Synonymous With Disaster”- Pacific Standard
Boeing has since hired a crisis communications firm, Sard Verbinnen, to help preserve its image in the public. However, rising concerns about the safety of flying, and not just the safety of Boeing planes, may be indicative of a change in how society views the aerospace industry. Flying is considered the safest form of travel. According to the national safety council, people only have a 1 in 9,281 chance of dying when flying. As reference, when driving, people have a 1/114 chance of dying. Thus, people should not be concerned about their safety in the air. But perception can sometimes be stronger than reality, and it seems that many people are refusing to fly on 737 Max jets. A Business Insider poll in March indicated that 53% of American adults would not fly on a 737 Max plane. Similarly, airlines around the globe have grounded the plane, citing safety concerns. It is clear that Boeing has to convince both its passengers and the airlines that fly their planes that flying is indeed safe. However, it may take a while for Boeing to regain everyone’s trust.
Demand for air travel is expected to double in the next 20 years, however, airlines also have to maintain affordable airfares despite the rising costs that will inevitably result from greater safety measures. Statistically, flying is as safe as it’s ever been, as fatalities have declined significantly since 2000 and the chances of an accident are around one in a million. As airlines request more advanced technology, stricter deadlines to produce planes threatens to compromise the safety of flight further. Boeing projects that they will need close to two million pilots and maintenance technicians by 2037. Newly discovered evidence indicates that the two recent crashes were both a result of an automated system that prevents the plane from stalling failing. Boeing has since grounded all 737 Max jets and cut their yearly production rate of the airplane, resulting a major decline in sales and profits.
In late May, Boeing met with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to discuss steps to return the 737 Max to service, which included an update for the malfunctioning software as well as additional pilot training. The FAA described the results of the meeting as “exceedingly positive,” but some believe the additional pilot training may not be enough. The closest practice to flying a plane is a flight simulator, a device not available to pilots at all airlines due to its extreme cost. The FAA has not announced any official new requirements regarding training. Moreover, Boeing’s new plan did not include simulator training, a point of criticism by some pilots and aviation consultants. Training requirements vary by the airline, and until an accurate standard is put in place, flying will not be as safe as it possibly can be. As Boeing, the FAA, and other aerospace companies and airlines move forward, they will need to find the right balance between safe and affordable technology to keep the aviation industry from regressing. Until then, public confidence in Boeing will continue to be weak.
Written by Derek Chiang, Edited by Alexander Versfeld & Alexander Fleiss