After a deadly plane crash in Ethiopia killed 157 people in March, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered an emergency grounding of all Boeing 737 Max aircraft operated by US-based airlines or in US territory. Boeing, the company that manufactures the planes, announced changes to its control systems, which were linked to both the recent Ethiopian crash and another deadly crash that happened last year in Indonesia.
What do these crashes mean for travelers?
Because travelers are sensitive to the news of deadly airline crashes, the industry is always at risk of losing customers after fatal accidents. Humans have evolved to fear heights; therefore, airplane travel plays into one of our most primal fears. The National Safety Council claims that Americans have a one in 103 chance of dying in a car crash and only a one in 188,364 chance of dying in an airplane crash. Despite these odds, most people do not fear getting into a car, but they do fear or at least have some apprehension about boarding a plane.
Anytime there is an airplane crash headlining the news, our primal fear of flying is triggered even more significantly. As a result, some airline companies, such as Virgin and British Airlines, have tried to combat flight anxiety and flight phobia with fear of flying classes and claim to have found great success reversing our instinctual fears.
How do the groundings affect the travel industry?
There are only approximately 350 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes in use globally; therefore, the effects of the grounding should be limited. Most airlines that have purchased the Max 8 only have a small number in use and have shifted around planes to accommodate the groundings. According to Skift, Southwest has the most Max 8 aircrafts—with 34 in their fleet—compared to all other US airlines. This only accounts for about 7% of their entire fleet.
However, Norwegian’s entire Providence, Rhode Island Airport fleet is made up of the 737 Max 8, so all over those flights have been subsequently canceled and re-routed to fly out of Stewart Airport in New York using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. As a result, Norwegian is providing a bus shuttle to and from New York. Therefore, the grounding has disrupted a lot of international travel flying out of T.F. Green due to Norwegian’s footprint and has been less than ideal for Rhode Island tourists flying abroad.
What are the financial impacts?
There will be some significant financial impacts for these airlines and for Boeing. Airlines are seeking compensation for their lost business and Boeing may be held accountable. Boeing’s reputation is also at risk. These recent crashes might give some competitive advantage to Airbus this year, but Boeing has rebounded after crashes in the past and has remained a key player in the commercial jet supplier field.
Where does Boeing go from here?
In an effort to be more transparent, Boeing recently unveiled software fixes and other improvements to the Max fleet, with the hope that these efforts will begin restoring faith in its airplanes. But Boeing hasn’t stopped production at their assembly plant in Renton, Washington, and this has many wondering if the planes will remain grounded long enough to implement these changes.
In this age of social media, where travel anxiety is stoked by the ongoing stream of the latest news and updates, the public will need more reassurances than ever of the fleet’s safety. And they’ll need more than shiny marketing campaigns claiming they’ve developed solutions to the problem. Boeing will need to be held accountable by regulatory agencies, and their software fixes will need to be thoroughly vetted by trained pilots—all under the watchful eye of the anxious flyer.
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