The most recent crash of a commercial passenger flight in the United States occurred a decade ago, when a flight headed for Buffalo went down, killing 50 people.
Since then, more than 300,000 people in the United States have been killed in motor vehicle accidents.
But that statistic doesn’t mean people have no right to be concerned with the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8, now that two of them crashed since October. It doesn’t mean the 40 airlines around the world that fly these jets should ignore customer concerns.
Nor does it mean the Federal Aviation Authority can be complacent. Travelers have reason to be concerned.
Airlines should heed those fears. And as a leader in the field, the FAA must do everything possible to maintain the safety of air travel in the United States and the world.
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed Sunday, killing all 157 people on board. Last October, the same model, owned by Lion Air, crashed into the Java Sea off Indonesia, killing 189. Both went down in a similar manner, crashing just minutes after takeoff.
The Max 8 is a fairly new model of the workhorse 737 series. There are only 350 flying now, but another 5,000 are on order. The first model went into service in 2017.
As country after country grounded Boeing’s 737 Max jets, U.S. air safety regulators remained resolute in their refusal to do so — until Wednesday.
That’s when the Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order keeping the planes on the tarmac. The agency said what made the difference was new, enhanced satellite tracking data and physical evidence on the ground that linked the Ethiopian jet’s movements to those of an Lion Air flight that plunged into the Java Sea.
“That evidence aligns the Ethiopian flight closer to Lion Air, what we know happened to Lion Air,” said Daniel Elwell, acting FAA administrator.
It’s not as if thousands of these planes have proven their reliability during a broad span of time. This model has no lengthy track record to counter fear. Two similar accidents in such a short period for a model that represents less than 2 percent of the world’s fleet is significant.
Only two U.S. airlines have Max 8, and neither has many. Just 24 of American Airlines’ 956 planes are Max 8s, and only 34 of Southwest’s 750 planes are. Allowing passengers to switch planes for free, or grounding these planes while the crashes are probed, isn’t going to impact airlines dramatically.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants told members Monday that American Airlines union members who feared flying on these Boeing models won’t be forced to do so. Ticketholders should not be treated differently.
Boeing was sued just days before the crash by the families of those who died on the Lion Air flight and now faces potentially even more liability, as well as canceled orders for its newest aircraft.
Right now, there is too little known about what caused these crashes and whether Boeing, the airlines and regulatory agencies addressed concerns properly after the October crash.
Passengers are struggling with fear, communities are in mourning and families are grief-stricken. The airlines need to show caution and compassion until Boeing and investigators supply answers.