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Grounding Boeing 737s Max jets is right call – Here's a statistician’s view of their risk

Grounding Boeing 737s Max jets is right call – Here's a statistician’s view of their risk

President Trump’s announcement Wednesday that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is temporarily grounding two models of the Boeing 737 Max jet following two deadly crashes was welcome but overdue.

Airlines around the world grounded the jets Monday or banned them from their airspace, following the crash of one of the planes operated by Ethiopian Airlines on Sunday that killed all 157 people on board. Five months earlier a similar plane flown by Indonesian Lion Air killed 189 when it fell into the ocean.

But while the European Union, China, Indonesia, Brazil, Ethiopia, Australia, Iceland and other nations acted swiftly to protect the safety of the flying public, the FAA and Boeing sat around and failed to act in the best interests of passengers on U.S. carriers.

FAA GROUNDS BOEING 737 MAX 8, 737 MAX 9 PLANES FOLLOWING DEADLY ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES CRASH

Most likely, the unacceptably long wait in the U.S. was caused in response to Boeing’s belief that better pilot training is what’s needed to prevent more crashes – rather than believing there is a problem with jet.

Frankly, I don’t really care what the issue is. Until the problem is fixed – whether it’s a pilot training issue, or a software malfunction, or a mechanical problem – I’m not getting on one of those planes, no matter what.

As a result, it would be an incredible coincidence if two new planes of the same type were involved in deadly crashes within five months. So common sense dictates that these planes need to be investigated as thoroughly as humanly possible to prevent another air tragedy.

I’m glad that now no U.S. airlines will be flying the jets until questions about the crashes are resolved and steps are taken to prevent them from happening again.

Here’s the deal: If the technology malfunctions, or the pilot training isn’t there, or something on the plane breaks, your 1 in 11 million chance of dying in a plane crash (meaning you are more likely to die of the flu, and more than 100 times more likely to die in a car accident) grows enormously.

It may seem like deaths from aircraft crashes are on the rise because they are up almost 160 percent from last year. But if you look back further you will see that in both 2014 and 2009 there were even more deaths. This is simple variability that exists in any trend.

But what about a different question – how often do airplanes actually crash? The answer is about once in every in 330 million flights. So the odds of such a crash are slightly greater than the odds of picking the winning numbers in the Mega Millions lottery.

As a result, it would be an incredible coincidence if two new planes of the same type were involved in deadly crashes within five months. So common sense dictates that these planes need to be investigated as thoroughly as humanly possible to prevent another air tragedy.

Why didn’t the FAA or Boeing itself ground the planes on Monday under the mantra of “better safe than sorry?” The highest cost estimate for grounding the planes would be $5 billion for a three-month period, according to Melius Research and Jeffries.

But at the same time, a grounding ordered by Boeing itself wouldn’t be an unprecedented move. In 2013, Boeing grounded its 787 Dreamliners due to a battery issue. However, since there were only about 50 planes in service, the cost was minimal, the company said.

Southwest Airlines operates 34 of the jets being grounded, American Airlines operates 24 and United Airlines operates 14.

Boeing and the FAA have a responsibility to protect all air passengers. Yet the FAA did not act until significant pressure from the flying public.

According to the Wall Street Journal, officials from Boeing and the FAA are now claiming that the government shutdown is responsible for 737 Max 8 tech updates not being released in early January, as was originally planned. After the initial crash in October, Boeing apparently began working on these updates.

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To blame this on the government shutdown is positively ridiculous and really just shows that Boeing has known that there was a problem since at least October.

Regardless of the eventual determined cause, Boeing should be ashamed of itself. President Trump and the FAA did the right thing.

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