Don’t Blame the MD-80 For This Mess

There’s no question that American has done an absolutely terrible job of managing the latest round of MD-80 maintenance issues from a PR perspective. It’s been so bad, that I’ve seen articles start to question the MD-80 as an airplane, even though there’s no reason for them to do so. The MD-80 is a safe plane, and it’s unfortunate that American has let this thing get away from them. So, as Milli Vanilli might say . . . blame it on AA, yeah, yeah. (No? Too ridiculous?)

It all comes back to American’s unwillingness to push out a full explanation of what was happening. Finally, yesterday, they did, though curiously it came from their EVP of Marketing and not from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. Airline Biz blog has the info here.

Basically, a couple years ago, there were concerns that wiring could arc and start fires or cause a variety of other problems. The FAA put out an Airworthiness Directive (AD) and made the airlines comply within 18 months. Now, they clearly didn’t think this was a problem of imminent doom, or they wouldn’t have allowed the airlines to make the fixes over 18 months.

By now, the fixes had been finished, but not 100% to spec. Now the FAA, fresh off being burned by the Southwest fiasco, is getting anal. They’re enforcing every little detail, so when they found that the spacing between ties holding the wire bundles together weren’t exactly one inch apart, they called foul.

So, the airlines flying the MD-80 are making these tiny changes to meet the requirements, even if it isn’t really a safety issue. How American wasn’t able to fix this last week when the planes were first grounded, I’ll never know. But it’s probably the FAA’s attempt to show the public that they’re doing something that’s making all this happen. It could have happened to any aircraft, but this is like the one kid in class who gets pulled to the front of the room so the teacher can make an example out of him.

Since it took American awhile to finally discuss the full details, it gave the media plenty of time to cook up stupid, stupid stories. The worst piece of irresponsible journalism comes from the AP. They put out a story entitled “Plane type Under Review Has Had Mishaps.” Uh oh. This awful piece of work goes on to link completely unrelated incidents, most of which were not even due to problems with the aircraft. And now CNN is jumping into the ring by talking about some landing gear problems that American MD-80s have had on extremely rare occasions over the last few months. The scaremongers are revving up. Let’s put a stop to that.

The MD-80 is a safe plane. Douglas built planes like tanks, and they tend to last forever. It’s no surprise that Northwest continues to operate 40 year old DC-9s. They may not be fuel efficient compared to newer planes, but they’re definitely solid aircraft.

I mean, take a look at this plane. Does it look unsafe?
08_04_09 md80
Ok, so maybe it looks like a giant flying wiener, but it’s not unsafe. I know a lot of Americans living out here on the West Coast often associate the MD-80 with the Alaska Airlines crash off the coast of Southern California. It’s not often that we see accidents of that magnitude in our own backyard, so it tends to leave a mark. But once again, that wasn’t the fault of the plane. That was improper maintenance by Alaska Airlines.

If you’d like to review all the previous accidents the MD-80 has had, the Aviation Safety Network can help. You’ll see that most if not all the accidents in there were not due to problems specific to the MD-80.

Don’t believe me that the plane is safe? I actually booked a flight on one yesterday. My fiancee and I will be flying on a Midwest MD-80 in August, and I didn’t think twice about it from a safety standpoint. American, Delta, Allegiant, Midwest, and Alaska all still fly the MD-80 in the US thousands of times per day without incident. There’s no reason you should avoid them.

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