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The Truth About Airplane Safety

posted by Jason Kottke Jan 10, 2024

Zeynep Tufekci writes about what makes airplane travel so safe, even when things go wrong (as with the Airbus A350 in Japan and the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 incidents).

Both incidents could have been much worse. And that everyone on both airliners walked away is, indeed, a miracle — but not the kind most people think about. They’re miracles of regulation, training, expertise, effort, constant improvement of infrastructure, as well as professionalism and heroism of the crew.

But these brave and professional men and women were standing on the shoulders of giants: competent bureaucrats; forensic investigators dispatched to accident investigations; large binders (nowadays digital) with hundreds and hundreds of pages of meticulously collected details of every aspect of accidents and near misses; constant training and retraining not just of the pilots but the cabin, ground, traffic control and maintenance crews; and a determined ethos that if something has gone wrong, the reason will be identified and fixed.

As Tufekci notes, when the capitalists are left to their own devices, corners are cut in the pursuit of shareholder value:

The Boeing 737 Max line holds other lessons. After two eerily similar back-to-back crashes in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people total, the planes were grounded. At first, some rushed to blame inexperienced pilots or software gone awry. But the world soon learned that the real problem had been corporate greed that had taken too many shortcuts while the regulators hadn’t managed to resist the onslaught.

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