Mr. Kelly, of The Points Guy, explains on his site that anyone can check the age of a plane on FlightRadar24, as long as they’ve paid for a Silver membership to the site. For his part, however, he says that he doesn’t consider a plane’s age when booking. “The 737 Max was a brand-new airplane,” he said, “and it was very problematic. I would not say old planes are any less safe than new ones.”

The pilot will call for a maintenance team, who will attempt to fix the issue on the ground (often while passengers wait at the gate). If the issue is minor but can’t be fixed immediately, the plane might still fly — air operators follow a document called the Minimum Equipment List, a list of systems and parts that can be inoperable and the plane can still fly.

If the maintenance issue is critical and the plane can’t be flown until it’s repaired, it will be taken out of service until it’s fixed. Safety issues with parts and aircraft prompt the F.A.A. to issue air worthiness directives, which notify all airlines making use of similar equipment that inspection, and potentially corrective action, is required.

Before the plane in question is returned to operation, crews will run several series of tests, likely including a flight or two, before supervisors will sign off on the mechanics’ work.

And what if an issue arises mid-flight, as it did on Feb. 20? Pilots are prepared for moments like those, said Dan Bubb, a former pilot and expert on aviation history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“When you’re flying, you’re always anticipating what could go wrong so you can get in front of it,” Mr. Bubb said. “Pilots regularly undergo training for all sorts of scenarios. And when it happens, your training kicks in. The pilots did a textbook job of safely landing that plane.”




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