Falling out of the skies

Year Published:  1989  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX3657

Abstract:  From all over the planet, it seems, reports are coming in of bizarre failures in jumbo jets and their components: an engine stops working over the Pacific, part of a wing tears off a plane over Manila, nine passengers sucked out over Hawaii. Until lately, Boeing, the maker of most large commercial jetliners, tended to insist that it was up to the individual airlines to make sure their planes were safe. Early in 1989, however, Boeing, realizing that its own image was being tarnished by the publicity around plane failures, set up the Ageing Fleet Evaluation Program, to try to help deal with the problems of aging airplanes. The program has found that of the 1,649 Boeing 727s in service around the world, fully 435 have amassed more flying hours than they were expected to do in their entire working lives. Boeing is now planning to advise airlines about how to deal with metal fatigue and other problems of ageing, and to pressure airlines not to fly planes that ought to be pulled from service. "It's not these rinky-dink Third World airlines who are to blame," said a Boeing executive. "They usually have their services and inspections performed in Europe, where work is thorough enough. No, it's big corporate airlines that push their planes -- our planes -- to the limits and beyond. Look at the figures. Read the news." Journalist Simon Winchester, writing in the Manchester Guardian Weekly, points out, "The last three incidents involving jumbo jets -- the engine failure, the broken wing, the torn fuselage -- had three things in common. All involved older 747s, made by Boeing. All incidents took place over the unimaginable vastness of the Pacific Ocean. And all three incidents occurred on jets owned and operated by United Air Lines."

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