lundi 4 avril 2011

I may never fly anywhere again

When I first started going to visit my sister in North Carolina, I flew on 737 jets. Then American Airlines started flying smaller regional jets into Raleigh-Durham. Now you can't even get a regional jet into there; instead you get a prop plane that we now know after the Buffalo crash of 2009, is probably piloted by someone making less in salary than your average manager of a Dunkin' Donuts.

Last time I went, I flew USAir into Charlotte, rented a car, and then drove the 2-1/2 hours to Chapel Hill -- anything to fly an actual 737 jet piloted by a Real Pilot.

Except now those 737 jets may be suspect too:
Federal aviation authorities said on Monday that they would order airlines to inspect some early Boeing 737 models after Southwest Airlines found subsurface cracks in three aircraft during checks that were conducted after a five-foot hole ripped through the roof of a 737-300 jetliner on Friday.

The Federal Aviation Administration said that it would issue an emergency directive on Tuesday requiring inspections for fatigue damage. The action would initially apply to about 175 aircraft worldwide, 80 of which are registered in the United States, and mostly operated by Southwest Airlines.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” the Transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, said in a statement. “Last Friday’s incident was very serious and could result in additional action depending on the outcome of the investigation.”

The statement came shortly after Boeing said it was preparing a service bulletin that would recommend “lap-joint” inspections on certain 737-300’s as well as the 737-400 and 737-500 models.

Friday’s incident unfolded at nearly 35,000 feet with the sound of an explosion during a flight involving a 15-year-old Boeing 737-300 carrying 118 passengers from Phoenix to Sacramento. Some passengers reported feeling dizzy during the swift loss of cabin pressure. Oxygen masks were released and at least two people passed out as the pilot guided the plane to an emergency landing at Yuma Marine Corps Air Station in Arizona. No one was seriously injured.

The F.A.A. directive would require initial inspections using electromagnetic, or eddy-current, technology in specific areas of the aircraft fuselage on Boeing 737 aircraft in the -300, -400 and -500 series that have accumulated more than 30,000 flight cycles — one takeoff and one landing. It would then require repetitive inspections at regular intervals.

I already refuse to fly Southwest because I have no desire to be kicked off a plane and publicly humiliated for Flying While Wearing a Size 16. But what assurances do we have that USAir's, or any other airline's 737s are in any better condition?

Amtrak, here I come. Or perhaps even Greyhound.

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