Others, having arrived in Washington safely, were wondering whether they should feel the little thrill of a lucky break for having ridden aboard an aircraft that, at the moment, seems either jinxed or flawed or both.
“I think it’s a scary thing,” said Craig Seidel, 34, of Denver, after the E.U. Aviation Safety Agency issued the grounding order Tuesday. “Nobody wants to say shut a bunch of planes down, financially. At the same time, I feel that if you had a make of a car that was just blowing up or crashing on its own, like Tesla had to deal with, maybe they’d shut it down faster.”
The decision by the E.U. and Britain to ground the Boeing jet followed similar action by France, Germany and at least 10 other countries, while the FAA remained one of the holdouts in continuing to certify the airworthiness of the U.S.-made Boeing 737 Max 8. The grounding orders issued by several other nations followed Sunday’s crash when a Ethiopian Airlines jet went down after leaving Addis Ababa, killing 157 people. The Boeing aircraft was the type as one involved in the deadly crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia in October.
Seidel, who works for a company that conducts educational tours, was among several passengers at National Airport who thought perhaps the United States should take a harder look at grounding the aircraft. He said the Ethiopian and Indonesian crashes could be a fluke, but there also might be a deadly flaw in the aircraft.
“I think Boeing’s had a good track record,” Seidel said. “But it, especially being a new jet, and something that’s not been around a long time, it’s a bit unnerving.”
Seidel, who flew 81 times last year, said the news grabbed his attention before he flew to the District from Chicago to meet a new tour group in Washington, but he put it aside.
“It’s a risk anytime,” Seidel said. “It’s just like driving down the road.”
Yet, Seidel also couldn’t help thinking that because the two crashes occurred in countries that might seem remote to many Americans, the U.S. government has been slower to move and the public has been less plugged in. At the same time, he said, grounding an entire fleet without good cause could have a serious financial impact.
FlyersRights.org, a group that advocates for passengers’ consumer rights and safety, urged the FAA to ground the aircraft.
“The FAA’s ‘wait and see’ attitude risks lives as well as the safety reputation of the U.S. aviation industry,” Paul Hudson, the group’s president, said in a statement.
Other passengers agreed with those concerns.
“I think there’s a problem. They should fix it,” said Tara Schorr, a middle school teacher in Tampa who was flying home with American Airlines after visiting her daughter in the Washington area. She said it was ridiculous that the aircraft were still carrying passengers with so many troubling questions about their airworthiness.
“It’s too many lives at risk not to check this out,” Schorr, 51, said. She said she wasn’t sure what she would do if she discovered that the aircraft that would take her back home might be the same model as the one in the Ethiopian crash. “I think I might go up and ask them when I’m checking in — I might ask them what kind of flight I’m getting on, whether it’s safe.”
Mark Maurice, an industrial engineer who had just flown to Washington from Boston on business, said he was concerned and more than a little curious about the make and model of aircraft he took and the one he would use to return home Wednesday. On the way to Washington, he found himself googling around, fiddling with flight apps, and trying to catch a glimpse of the manufacturer’s metal stamp on the aircraft body as he was entering the aircraft.
“I didn’t see it,” Maurice said. He said that the worries nagged at him during the flight — an unusual circumstance given that he flies 50 to 100 times a year — especially images from the Ethiopian crash site showing the huge hole and complete devastation from the crash. But he said it’s the uncertainty about the cause of the Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes that has set him most on edge.
“I think, in this case, they have not come up with a reason, and that’s just more of a concern,” he said. “We’ve just got to get an answer about what it is.”
As an engineer who’s comfortable with numbers and science, Maurice finally told himself to take a break from researching the Boeing 737 Max 8 and focus on the statistical safety of air travel. The fatal accident rate last year, for example, was only 0.39 per 1 million flights, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
Deborah DeLaurell, 36, an administrator at Harvard University who was waiting for a flight to Boston, said she didn’t like knowing that the same type of plane was involved in the two recent crashes. “Because now I’m nervous,” she said.
But her mother, Margie DeLaurell, 66, who was waiting to return to Waco, Tex., after their visit in Virginia, said she wasn’t that concerned because she knows she can trust the people who fly these aircraft. Margie DeLaurell said her father was pilot, a brother is a pilot and her stepfather serviced aircraft.
In fact, she said, her father, Richard Petersen, was the pilot in command of TWA Flight 840 from Rome to Athens when a terrorist group’s bomb ripped a hole in the plane’s fuselage, killing four passengers who were sucked into space and injuring nine others in the cabin. Petersen, then a pilot with 30 years’ experience, landed the jet safely in Athens.
“He knew what to do, he knew how to land it — because of his training, because of his experience,” Margie DeLaurell said. “Nowadays pilots are younger, maybe not as well trained, but I still do feel fine.”
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