Trump’s Somewhat Less-Than-Alarming Attack on Air Safety

January 26, 2017 / Share your comments...

Trump at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Hugo Silva

The Washington Post tagged a story on Donald Trump’s first days as U.S. President with the alarming proclamation that he was “blocking regulations, including one to prevent plane crashes.” Without wading into the morass that is federal politics in America these days, let’s just be clear about what Trump actually did.

Shortly after taking office Friday, Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, ordered a number of government agencies to withdraw proposed rules from publication in the federal register, the last stop before the “proposed” comes off and the rule becomes law.

From the Department of Housing to the Interior Department, senior lawyers must have worked through the weekend, because come Monday (Monday, Monday, Can’t trust that day) the director of the office of the Federal Register was the recipient of letters from all of them.

Of particular concern to the flying public, according to the Post, was the letter from Jonathan Moss from the Department of Transportation.  “Please withdraw from publication”, it read, a rule scheduled to be published the following day.

Like the leak in your basement that just keeps seeping back no matter what you do, Boeing has been working for decades to deal with cracking on older models of the world’s most popular airliner, the Boeing 737.

Since 1988, when an Aloha Airlines 737 lost a chunk of its roof on a flight to Honolulu and a flight attendant was tossed to her death, the airliner has shown a propensity to metal fatigue and cracking. A number of fixes have been ordered since that time. The one sidetracked by the Trump administration got its start in 2005.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a new rule that year which was modified in 2011. Had Trump not intervened, it would have been boosted again with an airworthiness directive expanding the areas on the fuselage that should be examined.

“We are proposing this AD to detect and correct fatigue cracking of the fuselage skin panels, which could cause rapid decompression of the airplane,” the rule reads.

All of which does sound alarming if passengers think they are at risk of stepping onto one of these airliners. That’s unlikely to be the case. The rule applies to just nine planes in service in the USA, the very old 737-100, 200 and 200c series.

Southwest is the largest operator of the 737. I’m waiting to hear whether any of these antiques are in its fleet. Southwest has up-close-and-personal experience with fatigue and the rapid decompression that can sometimes result. No doubt its learned its lesson to inspect very, very carefully regardless of the latest iteration of the rule from the FAA. The Trump-imposed delay in inspections probably doesn’t amount to much.

Trump’s four year term in office has just begun. He will have plenty of opportunities to interfere with flight safety, but contrary to the Post headline writers his first action in office, doesn’t appear to be one of them.

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