Boeing grounds entire crash aircraft fleet

Mayday: In both the Ethiopian and Lion Air flight, pilots reported difficulties soon after take-off.

The world’s largest aerospace company has finally taken action after finding new evidence at the scene of this week’s fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash. How much trust has the industry lost?

On Sunday, an Ethiopia Airlines flight took off from Addis Ababa on its way to Nairobi in Kenya. Three minutes later, it plummeted to the ground, killing all 157 people on board.

The story is sickeningly familiar. Less than five months ago, a Lion Air flight crashed shortly after taking off from Jakarta in Indonesia.

Both planes were the same model: the 737 Max 8 from US manufacturer Boeing. The Max 8 started operating less than two years ago.

While the true cause of the latest crash may not be known for months, fears about the aircraft are mounting.

As families gathered to mourn the dead, yesterday the US joined the long list of countries which have banned the Max 8 from flying. Soon afterwards, Boeing grounded its entire fleet of the planes “out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety.”

So what makes the 737 Max 8 different from other planes?

The aircraft is longer, with a larger engine than Boeing’s other models. It is similar enough to old 737s that pilots were not given extra training, but sufficiently different that a new MCAS autopilot system was added to help control the plane.

In the Lion Air crash, investigators suspect that an anti-stall function caused the MCAS system to turn the aircraft’s nose down. The plane’s trajectory suggested its pilots were battling against the system for control as the plane nose-dived.

US President Donald Trump certainly thinks automation is to blame.

“Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly,” he tweeted yesterday. “Often old and simpler is far better”.

But flying is now safer than ever. In the 1960s, when there was less automation, fatal accidents occurred once every 200,000 flights. Now, they happen less than once every two million flights.

In 2015, there were 37.5 million flights around the world and 68 accidents. Only four of those resulted in deaths. You are far more likely to be struck by lightning than to die in a plane crash.

Let’s fly

While the fear of flying is common, the industry is one of the world’s safest. Yet now questions are being raised about safety at Boeing, one of the world’s biggest aeroplane manufacturers. Is this the beginning of a wider scandal? Have these crashes damaged trust in the aviation industry? Or should we wait to learn more about the cause of the latest crash before passing judgement?

America was one of the last countries to ground the planes, as the Federal Aviation Administration insisted there were “no systemic performance issues”. Were countries right to ban the Max 8 so quickly? Was Boeing correct to act with an “abundance of caution”, despite the disruption to flights around the world?

You Decide

  1. Would you fly on a Max 8 plane?
  2. Is it reasonable to be scared of flying?

Activities

  1. Make a leaflet explaining how safe flying is compared to the other main popular methods of transport.
  2. Why exactly is the fear of flying so common? Write a few paragraphs in response to this question.

Some People Say...

“Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom.”

Marilyn Ferguson

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The odds of a given person dying in a plane crash are around one in 11 million. This is roughly the same as your chances of being eaten by a shark. Your likelihood of dying in a car accident are around one in 5,000. Even if you are in some kind of plane accident, you still have a 95% chance of surviving.
What do we not know?
Whether the Max 8’s MCAS automation system was to blame for the crash. If it was, it is unclear why the pilot did not just override the system, which should be simple to do. They may have been overwhelmed with the warning signals or have had insufficient training. Boeing is planning to issue a software update for the Max 8 and is working on new training updates.

Word Watch

People
Including nine British nationals. People of 35 different nationalities were on board the plane.
Flight
All 189 passengers were killed when the plane crashed into the sea after taking off from the Indonesian capital.
Max 8
Norwegian Airlines and TUI are the only airlines operating in the UK that use the model. They have both grounded the Max 8 planes.
Boeing
The company’s shares fell 5% on Monday and 6% on Tuesday.
737s
Boeing 737s are the world’s most popular group of commercial airliners. The first 737 was launched in 1967.
Anti-stall
A plane stalls when its nose its pointed too far up (this is called exceeding the angle of attack). At this point, air will hit the underside of the planes wings rather than flow over it, which can make the plane plummet to the ground.
Automation
Machines that operate by themselves.

Subjects

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