If you're afraid of flying then this week was not a good week for you. Not that it's been a good week for either Southwest or Boeing. Here's the thing, though; it's not like we don't have tools to evaluate the airworthiness of aircraft; we've got more nondestructive testing methods at our fingertips than ever before. But if the technology isn't being used, or isn't used effectively, we might as well not have it at all.
It's not that there aren't a bunch of technology gaps when it comes to air safety; the National Transportation Safety Board has a list of most wanted transportation safety improvements of which only a handful relate to technology (crash-resistant image recorders in cockpits, terrain awareness systems for aircraft used for emergency medical services, and improvements in aircraft design to minimize the effect of icing, to name three). Sadly, of the three wish list items I mentioned, the NTSB lists the federal response as unacceptable. The FAA has its hands full as is made painfully clear from the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General's November 2009 testimony on "Actions Needed to Improve Safety Oversight and Security at Aircraft Repair Stations". While more and more commercial air carriers are outsourcing their repair work, the FAA hasn't been keeping as watchful eye as necessary on the types of repairs being carried out and the quality of those repairs when they happen overseas.
With more and more very old planes still flying the skies, and keeping to punishing schedules, making sure that needed repairs happen and that the repairs are up to spec becomes a lot more important. I understand that there's always going to be a tradeoff between cost and safety; I just wish it didn't seem so much that cost trumps safety. For those of you working in the aerospace industry, what do you think?