American hesitancy to follow in the flight path of Britain, France, Germany, China and Australia and ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8 until nagging doubts are laid to rest about its safety is a mistake. Pray it does not become a deadly one.
There is a great deal we still do not know about a relatively new aircraft that has crashed twice in five months, first in Indonesia and then in Ethiopia, killing a combined 346 people. When black boxes and other data are rigorously analyzed, it is quite possible there will be no common thread linked to the jet’s equipment or software.
However, time is of the essence, and circumstantial evidence alone is enough here to give authorities reason to fear that the crashes share a cause: a faulty sensor and automatic feature sending the plane’s nose pointing down while pilots tried to lift it up.
Even with 8,500 flights on this equipment every week happening without incident, discretion is the better part of valor, for a plane that has been in service for less than two years.
Put in the “definitely not helpful” column Tuesday morning tweets by President Trump. Musing that planes (apparently all of them up to and including Air Force One) have become too complex to fly, he basically longed for the good old days when pilots could guide a plane with strong and manly hands. As often, there’s a grain of truth in his primal whine: Air travel experts have long worried about the potential risks of ever-more-powerful autopilot systems.
But Trump conflates advances that have overall made the skies safe and specific technology that may effectively override pilots at crucial moments. His unseemly opportunism is showing: A year ago, Trump took credit for record 2017 global air safety, which resulted from many of the innovations he now smears with a broad brush.
Besides, the president isn’t some dude on a barstool. He wields unrivaled power to demand potentially dangerous aircraft stay on the ground. Will he use that power, or just carp?
If, God forbid, there is a fatal flaw on this airplane and if, God forbid, it rears its head again, regulators will not be able to plead ignorance. There are warning signs. They are flashing. Take all necessary precautions.