An editorial: Jets shouldn’t explode or fall apart

Air travelers have come to expect a host of inconveniences and affronts as they fly around the globe. Security x-ray machines strip them naked. Airline counter clerks nickel-and-dime them with petty surcharges. On the plane itself, seating is tight, boredom is epidemic and that guy across the aisle is wearing a disturbing amount of facial hair and turbans.

But you would expect, at a minimum, not to be troubled by parts of the airplane falling off. Especially when you’re pretty sure you had to pay an extra $50 to upgrade to an intact plane.

Passengers aboard a Qantas flight from Singapore to Sydney were forced into an emergency landing Thursday after one of their Airbus A380’s engines experienced an “uncontained failure” and parts of it fell onto hapless Indonesians below. The plane landed safely and no one was injured.

Still, the incident represents what could be a new low in how travelers are being treated by the airline industry. Herded onto these new “super jumbo” jets that can seat close to a thousand people, passengers apparently now have to add aircraft disintegration to their list of concerns. This should not be.

“There has never been a fatal accident with this new generation of jetliners,” said Airbus spokesperson Justin Dubon of the A380s that have been in service for just over two years. “Therefore, it logically follows that there never will be one. We are studying this particular incident to see what kind of technical issues might be involved with similar aircraft, and how we can come up with a way to find that it was the passengers’ fault.”

It’s true that, in general, aviation safety has never been better. Millions of miles are flown each year without incident. Built-in redundancies all but guarantee that catastrophic mechanical failures will be kept to an absolute minimum. For example, a four-engine jet like the Qantas plane can still fly with only one engine functioning, though admittedly you’d be flying in circles.

What is usually the larger issue for the flying public are the minor annoyances that combine to make air travel a major hassle. Especially with long-haul transcontinental flights, passengers are faced with hours of boredom during which the highlight is having to climb over two sleeping fat ladies to go to the bathroom.

We applaud the efforts made by airlines like Qantas to make the in-flight experience more entertaining, with features like oxygen masks that contain scented gases and a closed-circuit network broadcasting movies, music, flight data and live video feeds of stuff falling off the plane.

But we don’t think a constructive way to fight tedium is by sending 433 passengers and a crew of 26 into a gut-wrenching panic with exploding jet engines.

“My whole body just went to jelly,” Tyler Wooster told Australia’s Nine Network. “We heard like a bang, like a shotgun going off, like a big loud gun.”

Even though most of the victims would’ve been Australian, we condemn the possibility that all aboard could’ve been killed in a fiery crash into the sea. The remote possibility that they might instead survive to spawn a gripping TV drama that incorporated time travel, flash-forward story lines and Evangeline Lilly in a sweaty T-shirt does little to mitigate what had the very real chance of becoming a major disaster.

The only thing we condone falling from the underbelly of a jetliner is flash-frozen excrement. Engines, wings, pieces of the fuselage and, most importantly, the confidence of the flying public that they’ll arrive safely at their intended destination, must remain a part of the airplane.

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