QANTAS A380: This Is Why Commentary Is Dangerous

Recently a Qantas Airbus A380 had to perform an emergency landing because its left-hand, inboard (or Number Two) engine effectively “shelled out” for some reason.  Qantas has grounded their fleet of 380s while they figure out what caused it, as any airline with a great safety record (and an effective damage-control team) would do.  Everybody is covering it, and many of these commentators are having some time in the sun by dramatically asking, “But Jerry…if there are only 37 A380s in service, and this happened to this one………..could they all be at risk?”

At about 3:19 or so in this clip from CNN in London, they ask exactly that.  It makes me grate my teeth.  These people have no idea what they are talking about, and here’s why:  They have absolutely no details yet, and obviously nothing but the barest idea of the actual parts of an airplane.  They are subtly fearmongering the public into being nervous about an incident that was well-contained and superbly executed.

There are any number of reasons that damage of that magnitude could occur in a turbine engine–after all, you can see in the picture of the Rolls-Royce technician just how big the front fan is; now imagine it spinning between one and ten thousand times per minute. A turbine engine is a very tightly  bundled piece of machinery, with quickly rotating pieces fitted sometimes to within ten-thousandths of an inch of each other.  But engines are rigorously tested for such interruptions as a front fan blade fracturing, water ingestion, bird ingestion and hailstorm durability, and excessive heat operation before they are ever even installed on an airframe.  Occasionally, circumstances line up and a part might fail, as in this case, but the fact that people are listening to these newspeople ask the “important” questions without giving their audience any background at all is a massive disservice to us, and to aviation as a whole.

Many times they will link two completely unrelated incidences in completely the wrong way.  I watched one of the commentators wonder aloud if there was any link between this incident and the flock of birds that brought down a different Airbus–an A319–into the Hudson River.  Two different aircraft, two different engines.  But oh, the peril all of those people avoided!  Even if the engine would have come clean off (as it did at O’Hare Airport to a Douglas DC-10 in 1979), there are three others to provide ample power.  Aircraft design these days has come so far that it’s no accident that aircraft fatal crashes are down nearly 65% from ten years ago…but it rarely gets even a passing mention from the media, who continue to keep us nervous about flying.  Aviation is safe and we need as many people to use it as possible.  It makes me crazy to watch the “news” sometimes!

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