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Onslaught of Aviation Incidents Prompt Investigations, Call for Changes

March 12, 2024

A bevy of investigations have been launched in response to recent incidents surrounding air travel in the U.S. Most notable is BBC News’ reporting on the death of John Barnett, a retired 32-year veteran of Boeing who, “In the days before his death, had been giving evidence in a whistleblower lawsuit against the company,” according to the BBC News article. The article also indicated “the Charleston County coroner confirmed his death and said the 62-year-old had died from a "self-inflicted" wound on 9 March and police were investigating.”

Additionally, the Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into the plug door that blew off during the landing of an Alaska Airlines flight in Portland back in January. In the past week, the media has reported on a seemingly non-stop list of airline mishaps, including United Flight 35 that lost a tire upon takeoff, “damaging multiple cars in a nearby parking lot,” according to a Daily Wire article. The Boeing 777-200 was headed to Japan, but landed safely in Los Angeles after the incident, according to a local NBC News affiliate. Video of the tire falling off the plane dominated news broadcasts that evening.

Other incidents include bubble wrap that caused an engine fire on a United flight that departed from Houston. Video that appears to have been taken by a passenger’s phone showed the engine catching on fire shortly after the Boeing 737 took off from Bush Airport to Fort Meyers, FL. Although it was unclear how it happened, United confirmed its suspicions that bubble wrap was sucked into the plane's engine. 

The Daily Wire also reported on dozens of people being injured when a LATAM Airlines Boeing 787 suddenly plunged mid-flight. According to the article and a statement by the airline, “The flight from Sydney, Australia, to Auckland, New Zealand, experienced ‘a technical event during the flight which caused a strong movement.’’

A March 12 article from The Associated Press stated that, “With Boeing facing multiple government investigations, the company needs to make “a serious transformation” around its safety and manufacturing quality.” “A serious transformation” is a direct quote from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during a March 11 press conference.

The day before, Buttigieg also said that the aircraft builder is under “enormous” scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation of the door plug blowout on the Alaska Airlines jet following “the company’s admission that it couldn’t find records that the National Transportation Safety Board sought for work done on the panel at a Boeing factory.”

 “Obviously we respect the independence of DOJ (the Department of Justice) and NTSB (the National Transportation Safety Board) doing their own work,” Buttigieg said at the press conference, “but we are not neutral on the question of whether Boeing should fully cooperate with any entity — NTSB, us, or DOJ. They should, and we expect them to.”

More than a number of the comments in the aftermath of these incidents have referred to manufacturing issues, maintenance issues, quality issues, and a need for a changing of culture from profits to product in the aviation industry.