Hello and welcome to a new episode by Flyboys
Aviation! Today’s episode is about aircraft groundings. The recent grounding of the 737
MAX has sent shockwaves throughout the world. How can such a modern and sophisticated airliner
be unsafe? When we look back, we can see that this is not the first grounding of a jetliner
in history. Let me take you back in time to discuss a few others. In the late 1940s aircraft manufacturers were
still hesitant to develop jet-powered airliners. It was believed they would be too unreliable
and too fuel-inefficient. De Havilland disagreed with this and started the development of the
world’s first operational jetliner: the de Havilland Comet. They were really breaking
new ground with their design. As a result of this the airframe was very extensively
tested before it was put into service in the early 1950s. All seemed well, but 1954 proved
to be a pivotal year. Two Comets crashed under similar circumstances in that year. As a result
of this, the airworthiness certificate of the aircraft was revoked and all of them were
grounded. It later turned out that the effects of metal fatigue were not entirely understood.
Repeated cycles put extensive pressure on the fuselage, especially the bolts and rivets.
Enough to rip open the skin of the aircraft mid-flight, which caused the two crashes.
Its reputation was ruined, and the sales of the aircraft never fully recovered after this. Had it not been for the costly lessons that
were learned back then the aircraft manufacturers that stepped in later, Boeing and Douglas,
would probably have had the same issues. The McDonnell Douglas DC-10, that first flew
in 1970, was also grounded once during its lifetime. In 1979 American Airlines flight
191 crashed after the nr. 1 engine had separated from the aircraft. American Airlines had removed
the engine and pylon during routine maintenance. They removed the engine and pylon as a single
unit instead of separately, as was advised by McDonnell Douglas. The forklift they used
for this procedure was placed incorrectly. As a result of this the engine pylon was damaged.
This caused metal fatigue that slowly developed until flight 191. The FAA suspended the type
certificate of the DC-10 two weeks after the crash. This resulted in a temporary worldwide
grounding of the DC-10. The aircraft’s reputation suffered heavily because of this. Although,
looking back, the aircraft was a successful venture for the manufacturer. The Concorde was also a product of that era.
A technological marvel and a thing of beauty, it served reliably for many years. Until the year 2000, when an Air France Concorde crashed
just after take-off. It turned out that a piece of metal on the runway had punctured
one of the tires of the aircraft and the resulting debris had damaged the fuel tank, which resulted
in the crash. The aircraft was grounded for more than a year before finally flying again. More recently, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was
grounded as well. In early 2013 Boeing’s latest airliner was grounded due to issues
with the lithium-ion batteries on the aircraft. They fixed it and the aircraft has been flying
around the world ever since. The current problems Boeing has with the 737 MAX are no doubt a
blow to the airline. But, as with the 787, the manufacturer will overcome these issues
and the grounding of this aircraft will be a vague memory to most in a few years’ time.
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some background to the fascinating world of aviation. See you around!