Non-pilots may be hard to deal with, but we all must interact with them from time to time, and this was my time. I was pickleballing at the local pickleballing venue with a group of tottering and doddering old friends. We were staying out of the kitchen and, because of our advanced age, found ourselves taking water and rest breaks far more often than our younger pickle-balling counterparts.

This aging pilot was sitting in the shade, minding my own business, when one of the non-pilot pickle-balling geezers approached me with an open question.

“How about that Boeing, huh?” he said.

What about that Boeing? I volleyed back at him.

“They keep falling apart!” he said, adding, “Hah!” as if that summed up the whole thing and that we could then bond over potential aviation fatalities and the frailties and failures of the aviation world.

I sent back a lob.

What do you mean? I asked. Is something going on with Boeing Aircraft? 

“You know,” he returned, “that hole in that Alaskan airplane that blew out of the side and all the other stuff recently, like wheels falling off and jets landing in the mud. You’ll never see me flying in a Boeing again!”

Oh, I said. I remember now. Yes, big chunks of any airplane falling off in flight are a cause for concern. It is a problem, but I don’t know if this recent spate of cable and network news kerfuffles is a reason not to go flying.

It is true that having a large panel of an airplane fly off in flight is a serious thing. Everybody, including me, must wonder if Boeing missed bolting that piece correctly and what else they missed when building the jet. Then again, the other things like wheels falling off and sliding into the mud at the airport are due to maintenance and piloting, not the kind of airplane it happened to.

“Well,” he said, “it all shows you how corrupt the airline and airplane business are. Didn’t you fly Boeings back when you were a pilot?”

I reminded my pickleballing buddy that I am still a pilot—I went flying just a few hours ago in my mighty Cessna 140—but I got what he meant.

Yes, I said, I flew just about every Boeing model, from the 727 to the 777, and I only missed piloting the 737.

“They were better made back then, right?” he said.

I’m not sure, I said. The ones I flew worked adequately most of the time, but back then, a part or a piece of them occasionally departed the airframe and dropped to the ground. 

A toilet service door that was not properly latched wiggled off once on my plane, and I remember a nose wheel gear door on a 727 I was a flight engineer on departing the airframe in cruise one time. I don’t think that either one of those things was due to corporate greed or malfeasance. Most likely, the ones that happened to me were because of wear and tear or, at worst, lazy ground crews or lapses in maintenance.

The thing is, and this is hard for me to admit, I am not an expert on the manufacture or maintenance of jet transport aircraft. I basically flew the planes that were presented to me, and my responsibility was to refuse to fly the ones I thought were not airworthy.

There were a few cases where I turned down airplanes, but they were few and far between and never because of perceived manufacturing flaws. 

Currently, Boeing is the large fish floundering in a tiny media barrel. It is their turn for close scrutiny, and they deserve it. Their upper management may have cut too many corners to secure their obscene pay packages. It is possible that the company lost sight of something or other. Most companies do that at one point or another.

I do know this: nobody at Boeing wanted any of these bad things to happen to their company, the airplanes they made, or their reputation. Countless company employees go to work every day and do their absolute best to do a safe and efficient job. 

It could be that their “perfumed princes,” the overpaid corporate MBA types became greedy, and their ignorance of aviation standards led to death and destruction, but the large majority of real Boeing people are mortified by this whole thing.

As bad as the Boeing 737 disasters were and are, you can bet your pickleball bag that this sort of thing has happened before in aviation and is in the process of happening elsewhere. Maybe the best thing about it all is that our media, hyped as it is, has drawn the public’s attention to the fact that aviation safety isn’t guaranteed. It must be worked on every day.

find out about me here:    https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevng/

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