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  • Kaeden Hollifield

Airlines take a PR hit as Boeing, industry come under scrutiny for safety concerns

Updated: Apr 25

by Kaeden Hollifield

Ensuring passenger safety is the stated No. 1 priority of every airline company and aerospace manufacturer.

But 2024 did not go as planned for the airline industry. The second day of January started with a collision between planes on a Tokyo runway and a few days later, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 lost a door plug at 30,000 feet.

Although there were no fatalities, a child sitting near the door that blew off was dangerously close to being sucked out of the plane.

The incident ultimately led to the firing of Stan Deal, Boeing CEO of the commercial airplane unit. CEO Dave Calhoun also announced he would step down by the end of 2024.

Despite the administrative changes, Boeing is still facing incredible scrutiny from Congress as executives appeared in a hearing before the U.S. Senate in April to answer to their safety issues.

Why airline safety has been overlooked

A report from Cerullo of CBS News said that Boeing has ignored safety concerns and production problems. 

Sam Salehpour, a quality engineer at Boeing, testified before the Senate that tehre is no "safety culture" at Boeing anymore.

Despite what Boeing officials state publicly, there is no safety culture at Boeing, and employees like me who speak up about defects with its production activities and lack of quality control are ignored, marginalized, threatened, sidelined and worse," Salehpour said on Capitol Hill.

NPR's Dave Schaper reported near misses and other mishaps are setting off alarm bells in the aviation industry, leading to a safety summit for the first time in 14 years. 

“Now, the NTSB has issued seven recommendations on runway collisions that have not been acted upon," said National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy. "One is 23 years old and still appropriate today on technology warning pilots of an impending collision.”

Why flying is safe?

“I don’t believe that you should be worried,” says Geoffrey Thomas, an aviation safety expert and editor-in-chief of Airline Ratings, which publishes an annual list of the safest airlines.

“If you look at the numbers, you’re more at risk to have an accident driving to the airport than you are flying at 38,000 feet," Thomas told CNN. "I tell people, if you make it to your flight, the most hazardous part of your day is actually behind you.”

A study by Arnold Barnett, a professor of statistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focuses his research on airplane safety.

In the past half-century, we’re now only about 1/38th as likely to die in a plane accident compared to the levels of the late 1960s and 1970s,” Barnett says.

Are passengers all that concerned anyway?

Despite great concern on Wall Street and among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, public opinion is mixed - generally heightened after an accident but back to mostly apathetic generally. Initial reactions are often fear, but ultimately, people understand that flying is safe and far more efficient than other travel.

Andrew Nelson, a National Geographic reporter who travels extensively for his work, explains how he feels as a passenger on an airplane.

“Flying is the most convenient and fastest way to travel for mid to long journeys," he said, adding that it's safer than driving. "Flying, statistically is almost ridiculously safe. In 2022 there were 32.2 million flights with only 5 fatal accidents.”

Anna Campbell a College of Charleston student who travels home to Maryland, much prefers a two-hour flight to a days-long drive.

“It is much quicker and you arrive at your destination in a few hours and won't get car-sick," she said.

When Nelson sees accidents or problems with flights reported on the news, it has no affect on his concern for travel by air.

“Simply none at all," he said. “The only thing I do is glance at the safety card so I know where the safety exits are - front and back.”

Campbell admits she gets a little concerned after seeing news of crashes or problems but not enough to change her plans.

“I think little about it when booking a flight," she said. “It has a slight impact because it is scary to hear about.”

But even on a plane during the safety presentations, Campbell admits to barely paying attention.

“I just sit on my phone and occasionally glance up," she says.

Her advice for added safety is just "triple-checking the plane to make sure all of the controls are functioning.”

Nelson has no suggestions for making flights safer, but he admits to being a fan of entertaining safety presentations.

Southwest Airlines has the funniest safety presentations, sometimes the attendants sing them," he said.

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