Robert Barron column: Flying is convenient, but it can be dangerous

I’m a nervous flyer at the best of times.

I’m a nervous flyer at the best of times.

When I was younger, I used to love getting on a plane and staring out the window as the aircraft quickly gained altitude and rose above the clouds.

It was a magical experience and it never occurred to me that something could go horribly wrong.

Many decades later, and after a long career in reading and writing news, I now know that anytime you add a human component to any endeavour, the possibility of screw ups grow exponentially.

Airplanes are amazing machines that seem to defy the laws of gravity and can deliver you to most parts of the world within hours, but they are built and maintained by people, many of whom are prone to mistakes no matter how well they have been trained.

I once read a case where maintenance crews were putting a new engine on a commuter jet and left it half finished when their shift ended and a new crew was brought in to finish the job.

Somehow, the new crew failed to realize that their colleagues had not replaced a vital row of screws in the engine as they were putting it back together and the plane was put back into service without them.

Needless to say, the plane only made a few flights before the engine blew apart while flying at more than 30,000 feet.

It must have been horrifying for the passengers and crew, but, fortunately, the pilots managed to land the plane with just one engine after a gut-wrenchingly fast descent with no more injuries than frayed nerves and maybe some post-traumatic stress disorder for a number of those on board.

Statistics say that there is a one in 102 chance of dying in a car crash compared to a one in 205,552 chance of dying as a passenger on an airplane, but I still feel less fearful getting into my car every day than I do strapping myself into an airplane seat.

I imagine many airline passengers feel the same way.

That’s why I think it was good decision by Transport Canada to close Canadian airspace to Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after one of these newly acquired jets operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed on March 10, killing all 157 people on board, including 18 Canadians.

Previously, a 737 Max 8 plane crashed off Indonesia in October, killing 189 people, and it appears that the reasons for both crashes may be linked.

Apparently, Boeing initiated some design changes in its hard-working 737 series in order to conserve fuel.

New software had to be installed to compensate for the design changes and it’s suspected that the software is a contributing factor in both crashes.

Transport Canada’s decision to ban the jets from Canadian airspace until the matter has been resolved means airlines like Air Canada and WestJet are scrambling to bring in replacements, causing scheduling nightmares for many passengers.

It’s a huge mess for Boeing, whose whole business revolves around building such safe plans that people should have no more fear of flying than walking their dogs around the block.

The company is going to have to crack down and prove the safety of its products before consumer confidence can be restored.

But it better, for the good of the traveling public and for its own sake.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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