Boeing 737 max 8 airplane

Image by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Afraid of flying?

You’re not alone. Although flying is one of the safest modes of transportation around, nearly 25% of Americans report at least some nervousness when it comes to flying the friendly skies. And if you didn’t fall into the terrified category before, chances are, you’ve seen enough headlines in the last couple of days to make you rethink your stance.

Sunday’s crash

On Sunday, March 10, 2019, a Boeing 737 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed on a routine flight outside Addis Abba. All 157 people on board the plane were killed. Although many airlines and countries are still operating the Boeing 737 jets and attempting to reassure passengers of their safety, fliers may have a reason to be skeptical: this has happened before. Sunday’s flight, flight 302, was bound for Nairobi, Kenya from Addis Ababa.

French aviation authorities are currently analyzing the flight’s black boxes, which may contain information about the flight’s final moments. It is possible that the information in the black boxes will provide insight into what led to the plane’s fatal crash.

The first crash

Although many people have made a connection between Sunday’s crash on Ethiopia Airlines and a previous Boeing 737 crash, officials are not ready to connect those dots just yet. Last year, on October 29, 2018, a Boeing 737 plane operated by Indonesian carrier Lion Air was heading towards Jakarta when it crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes into the flight. All 189 people aboard the flight were killed.

Investigations following the crash determined that pilots may have received incorrect information from their onboard sensors, causing them to overcorrect their flight angle or fail to see a problem up ahead. And although Boeing provided other pilots of 737 information on how to deal with such issues on future flights, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) did not report the 737 planes as compromised or unsafe.

Upon further investigation, researchers found that the Lion Air 737 had reported problems with the airspeed reports previously, and questions were raised about why that particular plane wasn’t grounded after those initial error reports. Examination of the plane post-crash determined that the plane was in good shape when it crashed into the water at high speed.

Unfortunately, the October crash of the Lion Air flight was not the first time issues with the Boeing 737 had been reported to officials. Between April 2018 and December 2018, at least 11 different reports were filed regarding this model of plane. The reports specifically mentioned unexpected nose dives and issues with the flight manual and aircraft automation programs.

What airlines (and others) are doing to prevent future crashes

After the Lion Air flight, Boeing issued additional instructions and guidance to pilots of the 737 planes. However, many people (flight crew members as well as flight passengers) feel as though these additional instructions are not enough.

As of Monday, March 11, 2019, multiple airlines in the United States were maintaining the security and safety of the Boeing 737 planes. Southwest Airlines (with 34 Boeing 737 planes in its fleet) and American Airlines (with 14 Boeing 737s currently in operation) both made public statements about the safety of their planes, their continued use of the 737s, and their inability to adjust ticket pricing or flight switching options for passengers who would rather not fly on the Boeing 737.

United Airlines, however, continued to point out that they use a different, larger model of the Boeing 737 plane.

Despite the insistence of federal aviation officials in the US claiming that they still consider Boeing 737s flight worthy and safe, some airlines determined early that they would ground fly their Boeing 737s until further investigations are completed. Delta Airlines (operator of six Boeing 737s) along with Ethiopian Airlines, Cayman Airways, and air regulators in China and Indonesia have all suspended flights of the Boeing 737 until further notice. China’s decision could have a major impact on Boeing and the future of the company’s work in the country — the flight market in China is growing rapidly, and up until this point, China was a major Boeing customer.

Potential passengers aren’t the only ones concerned about the safety of the Boeing 737. The Association of Flight Attendants has officially requested that the Federal Aviation Administration investigate this particular plane model in regards to their safety concerns. Politicians, including Dianne Feinstein of California, have also thrown their voices into the mix. Feinstein called out the Federal Aviation Administration as well, asking them to follow China and Indonesia’s lead of grounding Boeing 737s until further conclusions can be drawn from the two fatal crashes.

Although the FAA published a statement Monday saying that they would not ground the planes, the statement emphasized the upcoming training requirements, manuals, and design enhancements Boeing is planning to make to the 737s. Days later, however, the FAA issued an emergency order to ground the Boeing 737 jets. Despite the publicity of the plane and the number of daily airline travelers, the number of other large planes regularly in service have made the impact of removing these jets from service minimal.

The planes have been grounded and investigations are underway. Whether or not these crashes are connected is still uncertain, but what is for sure is that airlines and aviation administrations around the world are taking this issue and the safety of their passengers seriously.  As an airline passenger, know your rights when it comes to flying, plane models, and safety. And if you’re flying any time in the near future, prepare for some long lines.