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Ja's Civil Aviation Authority must keep us informed

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Given the affinity of our Rastafarians for Ethiopia, as their spiritual home, we breathe a huge sigh of relief that so far there are no reports of any Jamaican dying in the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 which killed all 157 people aboard on Sunday.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his message of condolence to the families of the deceased from 35 nationalities, has noted that there has not been any indication of Jamaicans being included among the fatalities.

We in this space wish to join Mr Holness and the rest of the world in mourning the deaths of the 149 passengers and eight airline crew who were on the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft when it crashed shortly after take-off from Bole International Airport in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, Kenya.

One can never quite fully comprehend the deep pain and trauma experienced by loved ones and associates of those who meet their untimely demise, especially in such dreadful circumstances.

It is, of course, noteworthy that several airlines and aviation authorities worldwide have either grounded their Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet or have restricted the aircraft model from entering or exiting their airspace.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency suspended operations of all Boeing 737 Max aircraft across Europe and banned all commercial flights by third-country operators in its airspace, even while awaiting investigations into the cause of the crash.

A similar aircraft was also involved in a Lion Air crash in October last year when a two-month-old plane plunged into the Java Sea minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing 189 people.

Nearer home, the main Opposition United National Congress in Trinidad and Tobago has urged the Government to “take immediate action to suspend” the intended lease of 12 of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft as a precautionary measure.

For its part, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, where the aircraft has been manufactured since 2017, initially issued no bans. And Boeing, in a statement, said that it had “full confidence in the safety of the Max”. However, late yesterday FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwellword reversed it decision.

Said he: “[W]e are a data-driven, action-oriented agency and we don't make decisions about grounding aircraft or regulating or even shutdown decisions for airports or aircraft without actionable data. And in this case, the actionable data didn't arrive until today.”

We think it would be very useful and perhaps reassuring to Jamaicans if our Civil Aviation Authority communicates with the public on how it is approaching this critical matter, if even to bring some peace of mind to all who fly on aircraft, or who worry that the Boeing 737 Max could come into our airspace. We are aware that up to late evening they were in consultations, so we eagerly await news from these authorities.

We are not suggesting there is any need for panic. We are fully aware that with powered flight now entering its second century, it is almost impossible to imagine a world without aviation. And it is to be acknowledged that technology and other advances have led to many significant improvements in aviation safety worldwide.

With international scheduled passenger airline flights totalling more than 37 million operations, transporting three billion passengers in 2015, according to the FAA, commercial aircraft crashes are relatively few.

However, once there is any doubt, no matter how small, about the safety of an aeroplane, we prefer the approach taken by the now defunct Air Jamaica, which had a policy that none of its aircraft would take off until even the most minute problem was resolved.