Pi Attitude Zone: Conformity & Stability

Fear of Flying

How can it be that all fifty of Boeing’s fabled new 787 Dreamliner airplanes have had to be grounded, and over something so seemingly minor as malfunctioning lithium ion batteries?

Though battery malfunction can cause much bigger problems, the reason for grounding Dreamliners lies partly in the heightened caution now shown by European and American aviation agencies.  That caution in turn finds its roots in changing attitudes to safety in the air on the part of passengers themselves.

Government agencies like the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have historically been extremely reluctant to take a whole aircraft model out of service.  When the Boeing 747 first ruled the skies, the FAA was prepared to countenance “teething problems” like temperamental engines.  When safety issues arose concerning the cargo doors of McDonnell Douglas DC-10s, the planes were kept flying until a fatal crash in 1979 made action unavoidable.  Before today, that was the last time the FAA grounded an aircraft model in its entirety.

Back in the 1970s fatal airplane crashes were still disturbingly frequent.  Today they are mercifully a rarity.  In early 2013, an All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight had to make an emergency landing due to a battery fault, causing smoke an electrical compartment.  In the same month a similar battery incident caused a fire on another Japan Airlines Dreamliner at a US airport.  The grounding of the Dreamliner is thus a precautionary preventive measure, not a response to a major air accident.

But no-one is any longer prepared for air travel to rely on “a wing and a prayer” at any level, even if the problem turns out to be just smoke.  Public safety expectations are now much higher than before.  Consumers expect things like household appliances, televisions and cars to work faultlessly, and we have all raised our standards of reliability accordingly.  Why should any level of failure in an aircraft be okay?

Pi says: the safer we are, the safer we need to feel, and the safer we expect to be kept. 

Zone: Conformity & Stability Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Travel