Boeing Problems Are Good For The “News” Business

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Thursday, April 11th, 2024

I read a post last week on Facebook that initially talked about a tornado that hit the Rome Georgia area in 1977.  As part of the story, it mentioned a simultaneous tragedy that occurred from the same storm.  

A Southern Airways DC-9 was flying from Huntsville Alabama to Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport, with the tornado spawning line of thunderstorms directly in its flight path.  The pilots saw a seemingly less severe path on their onboard radar and directed the plane directly into what was actually the most violent part of the system. 

 Aircraft radar was much more primitive than what is used today, and the inability to see through a large hail core returned an image that gave the pilots a false sense of security.  Hail baseball sized hail destroyed both engines, and the pilots tried to glide the plane to an emergency landing at Dobbins Air Force Base. 

Realizing they were going to be short of their target, they ultimately attempted a landing on a state highway in Paulding county Georgia, northwest of Atlanta.  The plane struck a gas station and exploded on impact, killing 63 of the 85 onboard the plane as well as 9 on the ground. 22 onboard the aircraft survived, including 2 flight attendants. 

I remember the Atlanta news coverage of the incident well.  Growing up in Fayette County Georgia, airline employees were a significant number of family friends.  That particular crash “hit home”.  The story also was a reminder than three to five decades ago, I could remember a lot of major airline crashes with equally tragic results. 

I then realized I couldn’t remember the last time a U.S. airline experienced a crash.  A quick online search revealed that a Continental Airlines regional jet crashed in February 2009, killing all 49 on board.  This was just a month after Sully Sullenberger glided his Airbus A320 to a water landing in New York’s Hudson River, saving all 155 aboard the aircraft.

All that is to say that it’s been 15 years since there was a major crash involving a U.S. airliner.  Just decades ago, these incidents were quite common.  Even then, statistically, air travel was still among the safest modes of transportation.

That last paragraph needs to be understood and internalized when viewing a lot of today’s news, and some “news” stories.  Too many reputable news organizations are earning the air quotes for their current click bait coverage of airline incidents and the entire aviation industry.

There are essentially two manufacturers of large aircraft used by mainline air carriers, Boeing and Airbus.  They’ve each had their challenges over the years, but are now locked in a duopoly and split most of the market for new aircraft sales and for those planes currently operated by the major airlines.

Boeing’s manufacturing processes have come under intense scrutiny after two international plane crashes in 2018 and 2019, and most recently, improper work done on a fuselage door plug prior to delivery to Alaska airlines.  Without going too deep into these incidents, let’s stipulate that Boeing deserves all of the bad publicity that these incidents have caused. 

That publicity has created a level of public awareness and perhaps even a bit of stigma for Boeing and the aircraft brand.  Too many news outlets are capitalizing on this with clickbait coverage of very routine incidents that have are outside the scope of Boeing’s responsibility. 

In the past few weeks I’ve seen stories about a wheel coming off a Boeing 757.  Boeing stopped producing that aircraft twenty years ago.  That’s an airline maintenance problem, not a Boeing manufacturing problem.

A local Atlanta TV station posted a story about a Boeing engine losing power on takeoff, and the plane having to return to Hartsfield-Jackson for an emergency landing.  They got their scare association to Boeing in the headline and the body of the story. They didn’t inform the viewers, however, that Boeing doesn’t make engines.  Pratt & Whitney, GE, and Rolls Royce are the usual suppliers to Boeing and Airbus airframes.  

In the comments to the story, however, another fact was mentioned by some on the flight. The loss of engine power was due to a bird strike, which was completely ignored by the reporter.  The intent was to tie the incident to something the public is already aware of – Boeing’s issues – rather than to inform the public of…honestly anything relevant.

The point of all this isn’t about the safety of air travel, nor to defend Boeing. It’s to remind ourselves of how we consume news. Unfortunately, the profit model for news now is clicks. Boring stories about aircraft safety statistics don’t pay the bills.  Headlines that reinforce what already scares you do. 

It’s ok to click.  But while consuming what you’re offered, remember to ask yourself on a regular basis if you’re being informed, or just monetized.