Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Latest AA Emergency; Sliding Seats, Unhinged Service Doors and the Ongoing Safety Challenge

After three episodes of seats separating from the track on American Airlines flights in 2012, the Dallas-based carrier may have thought its maintenance woes were out of the public eye. Note I did not say that its woes were over, only that the spotlight was off.

That changed Tuesday when American Airlines Flight 2293, a Boeing 757 en route to Dallas, returned to San Francisco after interior cabin panels separated in flight.

James Wilson, a passenger on the flight from Kyle, Texas told Associated Press passengers watched in horror as the wall along Row 14 split "from the floor to the ceiling."

"It sounded like it was popping and banging so loud at first I thought stuff was coming from the overhead compartments,"  he told reporters.

After a first announcing the flight would continue to Dallas, Wilson said the crew then decided to turn the flight around and land back at SFO. The plane would be ferried empty to American's maintenance base in Tulsa according to an airline spokesman.

Whether the event was just startling or a serious safety risk is debatable. But this is only the most recent maintenance event on American's airliners over the past months.


In July, the airline issued a special bulletin to its mechanics after two Boeing 737s and two MD-80s flew with access doors or panels open or missing. Failing to secure an engine cowling on one of the 737s resulted in repairs costing the airline more than a half million dollars, the advisory reports. The event, reported in the Aviation Herald, occurred in April of this year.

In another episode, a hydraulic service door was not latched properly by a security agent and was not noticed prior to takeoff. In the flight from Miami to Brazil, the unsecured door caused the over wing slide to deploy in flight resulting in nearly $3 million in damages. 

These reports reach me as I gaze out over the tranquil sea from a conference room in Adelaide, Australia where I am attending the International Society of Air Safety Investigators annual seminar. The room is filled with people engaged in spirited debate over how to make an astonishingly safe commercial aviation industry even safer.

Is reducing hazards about culture or climate? Can safety compete as a priority with profits? These are intellectually stimulating discussions until news likes this from American Airlines intrudes to remind us of the unrelenting, persistent and frustrating reality that talking is not enough; safe skies are darned hard accomplish and just as difficult to maintain.

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