Your Air-Taxi Flight Has Been Grounded ... NOT!!!
By Elliot Borin, Air TaxiFlights.com
Groundings, flight cancellations, deferred maintenance, stranded passengers, missed or inadequate aircraft inspections, multi-million-dollar fines ... all examples of recent events that have topped newscasts, jammed airline call centers and crowded airport ticket windows and departure gates.
What's it all really about? Is it, as much of the media would have us believe, about an aging commercial airline fleet? (The average aircraft at Northwest, the industry's senior citizen, is old enough to be deciding whether to vote for Clinton, McCain, Obama or none of the above.) Is it about financially challenged carriers "forced" to cut corners? Or is it about more than that. Is it about something that could, for lack of a better term, be called a generation gap. Fact: The heavy passenger jet is one of the 20th Century's four or five greatest inventions -- right up there with the Wright's brother's Kitty Hawk flyer, penicillin, TV and the computer. (Electric lights, cars and radio were actually invented in the late 1800's.) And of all those ground-breaking products, the passenger jet has needed the least tweaking over the decades. TVs went from black and white to color, penicillin was developed into super antibiotics, computers went from research toys to daily necessities.
But the long silver line between the newest 767 and the first 707 is still clear and unbroken. New jets are bigger, possibly more comfortable (depending on seat configuration), more fuel efficient and quieter, but none of them will get you from Boeing Seattle to Boeing St. Louis any faster (max. cruising speed of the 767 is actually 50kph less than that of the 707) or more reliably.
The early jets were and are truly wonderful aircraft, brilliantly designed and constructed. That the majority of first-generation 727s, 737s, 747s, DC9s, DC10s, L1011s and even 707s and DC-8s are still eminently flyable, with many of them -- 25 or more years after their build date -- reliably transporting passengers from point A to point B everywhere from Beirut to Atlanta on a daily basis is a testament to their greatness.
But all that said and acknowledged, those aircraft were born of a different era and culture. A lower, laid back, non-competitive and infinitely more profitable era. A culture in which slashing time, saving dollars and winnowing workforces were not the dominating driving forces they are today.
An Age of Regulation when an overly protective Uncle Sam decreed that if you wished to fly to South America you had to travel on PanAm and if you wanted to cross the Pacific by air you had to fly on TWA (as customers of the Matson Line's deluxe Clipper service found out to their sorrow when the government ordered the steamship company to terminate its air operations.)
An Age of Regulation when the only way an airline could offer a cheaper fare than its competitors was to make sure its aircraft never strayed over a state line to engage in interstate commerce. Something Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) which, in the 1960s and '70s wrote the tune (and business model) that Southwest Airlines now dances to, never did until the lowering of regulatory barriers enabled it to add service from its native California to Nevada.
An Age of Regulation when airlines could -- and some even did -- bar young men from walking onto an aircraft wearing a hat or having their shirt not tucked into their pants without fear of committing civil rights violations.
A Golden Age for the airlines, really. Though few of their top executives, who were bitterly opposed to regulation and totally ignorant of the consolidations (and subsequent eliminations of hundreds of high-priced vice presidencies) and bankruptcies it would bring, realized it.
A Golden Age when airlines could afford huge, fully staffed maintenance hangers at almost every major airport in the country. A time when aircraft could be taken out of service, inspected and maintained at a pace considerably less frenetic than that of an Indy 500 pit stop. An era when no first-tier carrier and very few second-tier carriers would even dream of outsourcing their inspection and maintenance work.
That was then. That was the system in place. That's the industry Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed designed their aircraft for. Given the technological realities of the day they had a choice. Design for minimal maintenance intervals and short service lives or more frequent and intensive maintenance cycles and long service lives.
Never guessing that the day would come when aircraft inspection and service would be performed by skeletal shop forces working under the pressure of implacable quotas, they built for the ages. They built planes designed to fly forever as long as they were maintained, overhauled and renewed by the book.
And they overbuilt. The "book" could be -- if not exactly skimmed -- followed less literally than the authors -- the aircrafts' designers -- intended. (Proof that the aircraft were "overbuilt" is inherent in the fact that all the recently disclosed missed inspections and hidden defects in hundreds of airliners have not resulted in a single mishap, not even a minor one.)
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