There were two statements in recent days that should give travelers, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers pause. And neither of them have much basis in fact.
The Times of London reported that Airbus was expected to “face calls to ground its worldwide fleet of long-range airliners” in the face of French investigators’ report on the Air France crash of an A330 off the coast of Brazil. Besides the unfortunate attribution of a “fleet” — a term more appropriate to airlines than to the manufacturer — to the European company, the report was wrong. French investigators didn’t make such blanket claims today about the airworthiness of the two-engine A330 and/or its sibling four-engine A340.
Second, actor and Twitter-holic Ashton Kutcher posted that “A 30 year vetran pilot recommended 2 me that I dont ride on an airbus until they prove that the composite tail is not creating ths accidents.” (sic)
There are several problems here. For starters, no one really knows what happened yet. It’s too early to say, and it’s irresponsible to make grand claims about the safety of these planes. A330s and A340s have flown millions of miles since the A340 design first rolled out nearly 20 years ago, and the Air France crash resulted in the first fatalities for that family of plane. The loss of those lives is awful, no doubt. But the planes have not been “flying coffins.” If there really is a safety reason to ground these planes, then by all means, let’s hear it.
But the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and its EU equivalent, the European Aviation Safety Agency, have not made any declarations on the matter. They haven’t even amplified the longstanding suggestion by Airbus (pre-crash!) that airlines should replace their speed-sensing Pitot tubes. And there hasn’t been much discussion of the composite tail, which Kutcher’s tweet references. (Though the tail, or vertical stabilizer, broke off on an American Airlines Airbus A300 — a completely different model — in 2001 after pilots encountered severe wake turbulence and overcompensated. I would be good money that the “30-year veteran” Kutcher references is an AA pilot.)
A worldwide grounding of these models of planes? If it were necessary, then sure. But it would be jumping the gun, and a huge inconvenience to the passengers on the nearly 1000 aircraft that would be grounded worldwide. And that’s highly unlikely before a more substantive investigation.
Second, as Benet Wilson pointed out, where the hell is Airbus in all of this? How can they permit their brand, and the confidence that millions of people have when they get on board an Airbus-built aircraft, to be squandered like this?
Airbus management has been royally screwing up on the PR front. They’ve been rather casual with regard to the Air France crash, and they’ve been nearly silent in the face of rampant speculation like that of the Times and Kutcher. Where is their response? That lack of dialogue with critics is hamfisted and dumb.
Let’s face it: Like it or not, comments like those from Ashton Kutcher matter. The man has readers — 2.5 million of them — and there will be celebrity-fetishists who listen to what he says, whether it makes sense or not. He has a bully pulpit, and he’s gone on record against Airbus.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that everything is okay, and that there’s no problem. There have been some incidents (beyond the crashes) that are being investigated. I’m not being an Airbus fanboy here. But overreaction isn’t productive for anyone, and that’s what’s happened here.
How about you? Have recent accidents shaken you up to the point of not flying on Airbus planes? Will you cancel flights or refuse to board a plane if you see an A330 or A340 — or heck, ANY Airbus — parked at the gate? Or is it business as usual? Hit the comments.