Winging It

Categories: National

DC-9 engine shoots flames; takeoff aborted

The Associated Press reports that a Northwest flight from Minneapolis to Minot returned to the gate this morning after an aborted takeoff. "It was basically just an engine failure," airport spokesman Pat Hogan explained, in what might turn out to be the understatement of the week. This is the second flight in a week that appears to have been forced back to the gate by mechanical troubles.

Why now, six weeks after the start of the mechanics' strike? It's only a guess, but here goes: Airplanes are so safe because they're engineered with all kinds of redundancies and are maintained according to carefully crafted schedules. Poor maintenance doesn't necessarily have an immediate effect; chances are you can defer work, and then defer it again. Odds are the plane will fly. Probably.

Airlines lose money while planes are on the ground. Consequently mechanics often feel pressured to "pencil-whip" a plane--to sign off on its airworthiness as quickly as possible. One way is to defer maintenance. This is why a mechanic's airframe and powerplant license is so important: It's a license to tell management that safety is about to get in the way of that whole on-time performance thing. (An issue CP explored in some depth here.)

On a related note, check out the Sunday Star Tribune's review of FAA inspection reports filed since the strike began: The piece by Tony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe makes a pretty airtight case that the strike is having an impact on the safety of the traveling public.

Still feel like flying?

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