The Boeing problem finally lands in SA

On Sunday, staff on the ground at OR Thambo International Airport in Johannesburg alerted the crew of FlySafair flight FA212, a Boeing 737-800 with registration ZS-FGE that it had a damaged back landing gear. The crew then decided the safest bet would be to return to Johannesburg and make an emergency landing, but not before performing at least two holding patterns to use some of its fuel as it was too heavy to land and the 737-800 doesn’t have systems to drop fuel.

With emergency vehicles awaiting the plane, cabin crews instructed passengers (the plane was packed) to assume brace positions. Luckily there were no injuries reported, but the damaged tyre was lost completely in what could have been a very bad day.

The damaged tyre upon landing. Image sourced from Zim Live.

According to an official statement that FlySafair sent to Hypertext, “one of the four rear wheels had come adrift during the takeoff roll” and now the nature of the damage to the tyre is under investigation by technical teams and authorities.

While modern aircraft have systems in place to allow landings with missing wheels, it is also up to pilots and crews to navigate such a problem, serious enough to force an emergency landing.

While the incident on flight FA212 resolved itself just about as well as it could have, it comes during a period in time when the manufacturer of the aircraft, Boeing, is facing massive international scrutiny from the public and the media about the safety of its planes.

Mostly, the situation revolves around Boeing’s latest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner, which the company itself insists is safe, even though one of Boeing’s chief engineers recently told NBC News that the fleet “needs attention” and he is alarmed by what he is seeing during production of these huge vehicles.

Unfortunately for Boeing, the model and other recent ones like the 737 Max have been involved in several serious incidents this year. Like the notable accident when a 737 Max belonging to Air Alaska had one of its cabin doors blown off mid-flight, and another when a Dreamliner “suddenly dropped” while in the air, sending passengers towards the roof in a hellish flight that saw 50 injured.

But issues are not relegated to new models, and with recent scrutiny increasing for the aircraft maker, incidents involving older Boeing planes are coming to light with more frequency.

According to PlaneSpotters, ZS-FGE is a nearly 17-year-old Boeing, and before flying for FlySafair belonged to three different Brazillian airlines and one American. It was bought by the local carrier in 2020.

Recent incidents involving Boeing 737-800 aircraft

The emergency landing in Joburg is likely the plane’s first major incident and it is also the most recent incident involving a Boeing aircraft in South Africa. Different 737-800 models have suffered other accidents in other nations in the last few months.

Earlier this month, a Boeing 737-800 belonging to Southwest Airlines in the US had to conduct an emergency landing back to Denver International as its right-wing engine case came off during takeoff. No injuries were reported, but a video of the engine cowling flapping in the wind was taken from a passenger’s viewpoint.

A month earlier, another 26-year-old 737-800 landed in a city in Oregon, the United States, with no-one noticing that one of its fuselage panels was lost mid-flight, and only discovered missing during a post-flight inspection.

While no injuries were reported in this incident, both on and off the ground, it points to a serious lack of either proper pre-flight inspection or another case of what critics and whistleblowers are calling “poor quality controls” from Boeing.

An Al-Jazeera report describes how over time, and in recent years, top-level management changes at Boeing have seen the manufacturer rush to meet lofty profit margins, and to do this has been placing its production staff on longer overtime and immense new pressures that have affected the quality of new aircraft.

Not giving people involved with aeroplanes enough rest historically leads to tragedy. Despite the bad press and incidents, Boeing has managed to avoid a major disaster. We can take solace in that South Africa has some of the finest pilots and safest airlines in the world, with more safety points than the likes of Austria, Finland, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand and many more.

[Image – Photo by Daniel Klein on JetPhotos]


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