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No, Boeing Issues Aren’t Actually On The Rise This Year, NTSB Data Shows

The number of accidents and incidents involving Boeing commercial planes, at least during the first 55 days of this year, is relatively the same as 2023, federal data shows.

There have been 19 incidents, accidents and occurrences involving Boeing planes globally as of Feb. 24, according to the most recent data available from the National Transportation Safety Board’s Case Analysis and Reporting Online tool (CAROL). For comparison, the NTSB documented 23 such events during the same 55-day period last year.

Events in the U.S. so far this year include the mid-air door plug scare involving a Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft over Oregon on Jan. 5, an engine fire in Miami on Jan. 18 and stuck rudder pedals on Feb. 6 in New Jersey.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a photo from its investigation showing a gaping hole where a door plug fell off a Boeing 737 Max 9 on Jan. 15.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a photo from its investigation showing a gaping hole where a door plug fell off a Boeing 737 Max 9 on Jan. 15. National Transportation Safety Board via Associated Press

The 2023 cases include two runway incursions ― when there’s an improper plane on a runway ― in Texas and Honolulu on Jan. 23 and Feb. 4; air turbulence causing injuries in Chicago on Feb. 10; and a near-collision in Florida on Feb. 16.

Though these cases don’t include more recent events ― including a plane veering off the runway in Houston on March 8, a tire falling off mid-flight in San Francisco on March 7 and an engine fire in Houston on March 4 ― it suggests that such incidents aren’t increasing. Experts also say there’s no reason for panic.

“The public being aware is always important, but I think everybody is hyper-sensitive, if I may use that word, because of how we started the year,” said aviation expert Anthony Brickhouse, who is a professor and director of the Aerospace Forensic Lab at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

“We had the Japan Airlines incident in Tokyo, a runway collision,” he said, referring to the non-Boeing Jan. 2 collision that killed five Japanese Coast Guard personnel. “And then later that week, we had the door plug.”

Boeing 787 Dreamliners are built at Boeing's assembly plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, in May 2023.
Boeing 787 Dreamliners are built at Boeing's assembly plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, in May 2023. Juliette Michel via Getty Images

“Obviously, when people read the news or hear the news and they hear about these safety events, it’s going to give them a reason to pause, but I think that we just have to have confidence in our fellow regulators and investigators,” he said. “I would be perfectly comfortable stepping on a flight this afternoon in spite of these recent events that have happened, but I understand how the general public thinks not knowing what I know.”

Capt. Richard Levy, who spent 41 years as a commercial airline pilot before retiring as a flight instructor, also dismissed recent incidents highlighted in the news as “not alarming at all.”

“Because of the Alaska Airlines situation with that plugged door there’s a focus on Boeing,” he said. “Were there issues with this particular aircraft with the bolts? Yes, there were ... that does not blacklist Boeing as a bad airplane.”

The door plug on the Alaska flight is believed to have blown off after workers failed to reattach bolts during repair work late last year, a preliminary report by the NTSB recently concluded.

Other figures similarly assure that air safety overall has significantly improved over the years, with accidents causing death, serious injury or substantial damage to an aircraft generally falling.

A Boeing 777X airplane taxis before its inaugural flight in Everett, Washington, in 2020.
A Boeing 777X airplane taxis before its inaugural flight in Everett, Washington, in 2020. JASON REDMOND via Getty Images

Last year there were just six fatal commercial aviation accidents worldwide, resulting in a total of 115 deaths. That’s the fewest on record, according to aviation industry publication FlightGlobal.

In the U.S., there were 18 non-fatal accidents and one fatal accident in 2022, according to the NTSB, which has not yet posted annual data for 2023. That one fatality involved a runway worker and an Embraer E175 jet in Alabama.

In 2021, there were 23 non-fatal accidents. And in 2020, there were 12 non-fatal accidents.

Both Levy and Brickhouse encouraged the public to have greater assurance in airlines’ training and response when situations arise, as they will. Both noted that although everything in life involves some degree of risk, flying is still considered one of the safest modes of transportation.

“We train for the situations when there is something unusual, from the minor to the major,” Levy said. “The pilots are trained well to handle it so nobody should have one thought or hesitation, and there will be.”

Safety is an ongoing activity. It’s not something that you fully achieve. It’s something that you constantly work toward.Anthony Brickhouse, director of the Aerospace Forensic Lab at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University

“Airlines are constantly upgrading their fleets and getting rid of old aircraft and getting new aircraft,” Brickhouse said. “All airlines have really good maintenance activities going on ― just like our passenger cars, after a certain number of miles you have to go in for an oil change.”

He further encouraged passengers to do their part by paying attention to the safety instructions at the start of flights, and Levy stressed fastening seatbelts when directed. A passenger on the Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines flight, who claims his shoes and socks were sucked off his feet when the door plug blew off, has credited his seatbelt for saving his life in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

“Safety is an ongoing activity. It’s not something that you fully achieve. It’s something that you constantly work toward,” Brickhouse said.

Boeing, meanwhile, faces a two-day investigative hearing with the NTSB in August over the door plug incident and reportedly a Justice Department criminal investigation.

The Federal Aviation Administration gave the aviation company 90 days to provide a plan of action in response to an audit finding “multiple instances” in which Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, which manufactures the Boeing 737 Max’s fuselage, “allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements.”

Boeing has vowed to be transparent with the NTSB investigation while adding additional inspections into the 737′s build process to ensure the safety of the jetliners.

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