Flawless is coming soon...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What’s With the Grounding of the Planes?

I love living in a modern society! I love the convenience of hitting a thermostat and hearing my oil fired furnace roar to life. My parents grew up in homes, not unlike many Americans in rural stretches of this country, where the thermostat was in the wood pile. While it would have taken my ancestors six months to travel from Maryland to California, my wife and I did it in about eight hours after a layover in Denver. And most urbanites have the convenience of a 24-hour retailer that would welcome them at 2:30 a.m. for the purchase of a painkiller to help ease the throbbing of a toothache.

This is truly a remarkable society that we live in; however, the downside to a modern society is that when things go bad, they can go really bad: if a nuclear power plant had a meltdown, the radiation exposure could kill everyone within a 5-mile radius; alcohol and automobiles kill nearly 20,000 people a year and injure many more than that; a bridge that is not inspected regularly could collapse without warning; bacteria in a city’s water system could cause an epidemic; and an airplane cruising at 29,000 feet is susceptible to a wind sheer that can knock it right out of the sky.

I think most people are willing to live with the unseen risks of a modern society. However, very few of us are the type of thrill seekers that would go about our daily activities in the face of danger. Sure, many thrill seekers will bungee jump, sky dive or raft the white water rapids, but how many would book travel on an airline if they knew that that airline had been threatened with a terrorist attack? Certainly if the price is right, there is always someone who is foolish enough or desperate enough to take that risk, which brings me to something that has recently been of concern to me – American Airlines’ cancellation of thousands of flights over the last week.

We have been told that Federal Aviation Administration inspectors raised concerns about the wiring harnesses in the wheel wells of the Boeing MD-80. I sure pray that that is all it is; however, why would American basically ground its fleet of MD-80s when, if this is a problem, it has been a problem since the planes were delivered. These fuel efficient, twin-engine jets were certified for service by the FAA in August 1980; therefore, why almost 30 years later is there a concern that had not been noticed prior? I certainly am not qualified to make a decision to ground a fleet of airlines over safety concerns. However, it would seem to me that a reasonable inspection period, let’s say 90 days, would have been appropriate in this instance, considering that fact that some of these airplanes are nearly 30 years old.

Usually if there is a safety concern over a product, the manufacturer is brought into the process of eliminating the hazard. However, I have not seen where Boeing has explained why the harness system was installed the way that it was, neither has the manufacturer offered an explanation that would verify the integrity of the product, in this instance, the commercial airliner. Also, what is adding to this mystery is that some of the planes have been inspected more than once. If American has competent machinists inspecting the wiring harness, why would it have to reinspect some planes?

The logical questions that I have posed, along with the airlines’ urgency to demonstrate its prompt attention to an FAA “concern” that appears to be 30 years late, seems to suggest something more ominous than simply a faulty wiring harness. I would not be surprised if the United States intelligence community or the diplomatic back-channels have uncovered a terrorist plot to blow up commercial airliners while in flight; specifically MD-80s. Consequently, what has been advertised as safety inspections could in fact be heightened anxiety that one or more MD-80s has a bomb installed in it. If so, and I hope that I am wrong on this suspicion, then that would explain American’s willingness to abruptly cancel thousands of flights, leaving tens of thousands of their customers stranded at airports across the country.

On a deeper level, have Americans convinced themselves that Al Qaeda, or another terrorist organization will remain dormant while the U.S. Military hunts its leaders, including Osama bin Laden? Depending on which report you believe, between 60,000 and 110,000 Iraqis have been killed during the current conflict. These are men, women and children; Iraqi citizens who have been caught in the crosshairs of a war between the U.S. and the insurgents. I believe in modern military vernacular this is called collateral damage. It is extremely unfortunate that it is happening, but do we honestly believe that the terrorist will not strike back for this and for other reasons?

If there has been a terrorist threat against our commercial airlines, and again I hope that I am wrong, it would make sense that the administration would want to keep this information above top-secret. And the current explanation for grounding the MD-80s would certainly prevent a public panic and a subsequent refusal to fly. With the current housing market, credit crunch and high gasoline prices, our economy could nosedive, no pun intended, into a depression if the public stopped flying for fear of another terrorist attack.

If we rewind to September 11, 2001, we will note that the terrorists attacked two airlines that, metaphorically speaking, represent the U.S. – American and United, so in a possible follow-up attack, has Al Qaeda set its sites on American Airlines again? For the third time, I hope (and pray) not.

In closing, I would like to urge those who may read this article to use some caution during this period if flying is a logical choice for you, because as the late Kurt Cobain has been quoted as saying, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they are not after you.”

No comments: