Mar 11, 2024 - News

Airplane incidents raise new concerns

Illustration of an airplane with fingers crossed graphic.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A spate of aviation incidents in the last week — including a few in Houston — is raising fresh safety concerns in the wake of January's near-catastrophe involving a Boeing 737 MAX 9.

Why it matters: Many travelers are on edge heading into the busy summer air travel season.

Driving the news: A United Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 slid off the runway Friday while landing in Houston. It's unclear if mechanical issues played a role, though news footage suggests the landing gear collapsed at some point, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick writes.

  • "We are closely monitoring the situation and will provide any support needed to United Airlines and the investigators," a Boeing spokesperson tells Axios.

Last Monday, a United Boeing 737-900 safely returned to Houston after flames were spotted spewing from one of its engines, which had "ingested some plastic bubble wrap that was on the airfield prior to departure," the airline said.

Plus: A United Boeing 777 lost a tire shortly after takeoff from San Francisco on Thursday. The aircraft landed safely in Los Angeles and nobody was injured, though the flying tire smashed into a parked car.

The big picture: Each of these incidents will be investigated separately. Based on what's currently known, there's nothing to suggest a link between them — despite the fact that they all involved United-flown, Boeing-made aircraft.

  • While aircraft manufacturers are responsible for ensuring they build and deliver safe planes, airlines are chiefly on the hook for maintaining them post-delivery.

💭 Our thought bubble: Aircraft are highly complex machines, and minor to moderate mechanical issues aren't uncommon.

  • To some extent, what's happening here may be chalked up to "frequency illusion" — we're paying extra attention to aviation mishaps because we're all at least a little freaked out about January's 737 MAX door blowout.

Yes, but: That's not to minimize any of these incidents, which all deserve investigators' attention, as they may turn up useful information for aircraft makers, operators and travelers.

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