Dreamliner Causes Nightmares for Boeing and Passengers
I went to college with the daughter of an aircraft engineer, company name withheld. She reported that he said (partially in jest) that planes are held together with chewing gum and baling wire.
Fifty years later, the industry has progressed immeasurably. Now ultra-jumbos carry 300-500 passengers who can telecommute inflight, watch first-run movies from seat-mounted consoles, nap supine a la Nash Rambler and other non-travel-related activities.
But my simple mind can't figure out the advantage (to the passenger) of cramming 300 people onto one plane, especially since, to make the plane lighter and therefore more fuel-efficient, many airplane parts are fabricated from plastic.
I don't know if this has anything to do with problems experienced recently by the Boeing part-plastic 787 Dreamliner. Probably not. Boeing quickly made noises about the Dreamliner's safety until planes were grounded worldwide and stock tumbled. All the bells and whistles were chiming and whistling just fine. The plastic still gleamed like metal. The lithium batteries, however, posed a fire risk.
Repeat: Blame the batteries. Batteries aren't new. Every car has one. Every aircraft has many. You'd think the engineers would have got it right by now.
This raises the question: What was wrong with older, sturdier aircraft that delivered us to our destinations just fine? The kind held together with chewing gum and baling wire. Most with padded seats, decent leg room, free checked bags. The kind owned by airlines staffed by people-oriented employees.
I'm a fairly frequent flier - almost all on rusty, bumpy, noisy, geriatric regional carriers piloted by (very) young men and women trying to rack up enough hours to fly Dreamliners, not one of which, I'll wager, could have landed that US Airways plane in the Hudson River.
That's because military-trained pilots are scarcer than trim young flight attendants. Obviously, I'm for equal opportunity (gender and age) employment, but the attendant on my last flight had AARP tattooed on one arm, The Biggest Loser on the other. She was quite capable of pouring Coke. But taking charge of an emergency evacuation?
Back to plastic planes with cubbies surrounding each seat, desktop and computer screen included, aimed at businessmen still traveling on company bucks, which are scarcer than polite gate agents. I ponder to whom the airlines pander. One TV ad for Korea Air features long-legged women too beautiful even for those other runways.
Cars present a similar conundrum. Sure, many promote good mileage, but just as many others seduce buyers with perks totally unrelated to a safe arrival. What difference does it make if an NFL quarterback stuck in traffic can order a pizza by pushing a button on the dashboard? Now, if that button could inflate a flat tire -- different story.
Of course, some safety features like the back-up sensor do make prime time. How I wish the van that knocked me over as it backed out of a parking space had been equipped with one. Trucks are required. Why is it installed only on high-priced models, or as an extra?
Forgive my digression. The Dreamliner lists for about $207 million. It cost billions to develop. Yet in their rush to field the world's most glamorous big bird, designers failed to notice the pea under the mattress.
Just another example of getting everything we want, all the time, simply because it is possible. As I recall, the economy was in a lot better shape without a smartphone in every pocket and 60 apps on every smartphone.
Not that progress is bad. Progress is fantastic. But airplanes shouldn't be like Chinese buffets - a little of everything for everybody.
I'd be more comfortable if the industry put their money where the safety is: better chewing gum, better baling wire and better batteries.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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