Friday, November 5, 2010

Big Bird Cutting Big Teeth

Here we are again, up in arms around the world as the international media gleefully report about what might have happened if Qantas Flight #34 from Singapore to Sydney had dropped from the sky because of an engine explosion shortly after take-off. There were over 450 passengers on board plus 26 crew on board the Airbus A380 aircraft, less than two years in service with the Australian carrier who is famous for having never experienced an aircraft fatality in 60+ years of jet service. Nobody died in the accident, either on board the airplane or on the ground below but that doesn't stop the headline hunters from whipping up - or trying to whip up - a sensation about the possibility of an "unfathomable" tragedy.

I certainly know better than to put undying (sic) faith in the technical advances of aviation. Most of these advances are pre-paid with human tragedy that leads to the improvements usually seen as unnecessary. No one wants to pay for them and the likelihood of such a disaster is remote...until it happens and then, following hand wringing, mourning, litigating and court order a "major breakthrough" is announced and all is right and safe with the world again. Until the next time.

I also have no doubt that as far as was humanly possible during the development of a plane this big, over one million pounds on take-off and can fly up to 8,000 miles nonstop with more than 500 people on its back the whole way, everything conceivable was thought out, tested, re-tested and tested again. Much of this played a key part in the non-accident that took place earlier this week but make no mistake, it was paid for.

Bird strikes have been around since the Wright brothers; not much one can do about that except try and contain the damage a sizable bird would cause if ingested in to an aircraft engine. Other foreign matter such as volcanic ash have also been known to cramp an engine while smaller things as innocuous as a paper clip have also gotten in the way of well laid plans when introduced to a machine purpose built to suck up huge amounts of air but nothing else whatsoever. They're not meant to take in the kinds of things a household vacuum earns its reputation inhaling from the family carpet. All they are built to eat is air.

At the end of the day this may amount to exactly that, little more than a bird strike, as garden variety a mishap as is likely to happen. Take note of the fact that the plane held together, the passenger cabin was not compromised, the other three engines on the beast performed flawlessly, the pilot compensated for the imbalance and landed the cutting edge bird exactly as he was trained to do. A few skittish fliers got more than they bargained for, a few thrill seekers on board (isn't there always at least one) got the ride of a lifetime and no doubt a few self-absorbed suits groused about the inconvenience of it all.

This little teething problem is costing Qantas some cash and a few hits on its reputation but both airplane and airline will bounce back in to the bright blue above; part and parcel of running an airline and breaking in a still new airplane.

Gotta go.

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