“We don’t have to worry that there’s something systemically wrong with aviation,” Clint Balog, an associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told USA TODAY.

It has been a year of increased tension around air travel. A series of high-profile incidents have put a spotlight on safety concerns among airlines and manufacturers, leaving many travelers wondering whether flying is still the safest way to get around.

“We are in a period in recent months where more incidents are happening, and because more incidents are happening, we are now paying more attention to them,” Balog said. “We are in a time frame where we have a cluster of these incidents.”

Laura Einsetler, a captain at a major U.S. airline and author of the Captain Laura blog, said people are also more aware of aviation incidents than in the past.

“One aspect is that now with social media and the internet we see everything we can see around the world. The perception is that more things are happening while at the same time 2023 was the safest year of all time in our sector,” she said.

Boeing, the vaunted aircraft manufacturer, has been at the forefront of the current wave of incidents. An explosive decompression on an Alaska Airlines flight in January brought renewed attention to the already clouded 737 Max program. Before the pandemic, two 737 Max jets crashed overseas, killing 346 people. Those early disasters cast a shadow over the latest version of the plane that Boeing was still trying to get out of. Experts say the Alaska Airlines incident narrowly avoided deaths or significant injuries.

Cruise height: I have paid attention to Boeing’s 737 MAX for years. Here’s a quick overview of the issues.

In response to that incident, the Federal Aviation Administration opened an audit of Boeing’s manufacturing processes and found the company’s safety culture lacking.

Still, Balog said pilots should still feel safe on Boeing planes.

“I would happily fly any Boeing aircraft, including the 737 Max. It’s a great airplane,” he said. “No organization is flawless, and when errors occur in aviation… it is not surprising that they occur in groups like this. These cases are rarely evenly distributed.”

Einsetler also said passengers don’t have to worry too much about flying.

“When you see pilots who put our lives on the line every day to keep everyone safe, you can be sure that if we feel very safe and comfortable sitting at the end of the spear, at the front of the flight. deck operates the aircraft for you, then you should be able to trust that we will keep you safe,” she said.

Boeing is certainly not the only aerospace company that has been in the spotlight lately.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby sent a letter to customers on Monday in response to a series of issues that have put the airline in the news. Over the past two months, United planes have experienced problems, including a stuck rudder pedal on landing, an engine fire and a wheel falling off a departing plane.

Kirby’s letter emphasized that the incidents were all unrelated, and that United renewed its focus on safety.

Balog said Kirby is correct in claiming the incidents are one-offs.

“What they all essentially have to do with each other is that these are human factors, these are human errors,” he said. “It has nothing to do with an aircraft, but with the people who perform these functions. A tire falling off a Boeing 777 during takeoff is a human factors issue, it’s a maintenance issue.”

Balog said a series of incidents, such as what recently happened at United, may indicate an organizational problem, but it does not necessarily mean there is an inherent danger in the way United runs its operations.

Ultimately, he said, the problems currently receiving attention in aviation are due to human error, but they are easy enough to address and correct.

“There will be problems because there are people involved in these incidents and people involved in this operation to fly the general public around. To feel safe you have to look at the big picture,” says Balog. “No human endeavor is completely safe. It would be difficult to find an operation that is safer than commercial aviation in today’s world.”

Einsetler also said the aviation workforce has more new hires than it has in a while, so there may be some regrowth or training pains in the current period as newer hires come up to speed.

What do the recent incidents mean for travelers?

While Boeing has been in the spotlight for recent aviation incidents, both Balog and Einsetler say passengers should understand that each incident is largely different.

“In most of these cases, they are unrelated events. As an industry, we take note of it, understand it and learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again,” said Einsetler.

Passengers may wonder whether problems at Boeing or a maintenance issue are to blame for a particular incident, but Balog said that’s the wrong question to ask.

“As far as passengers understanding what the root causes are, they really can’t,” he said. That’s why regulators spend months investigating aviation incidents, to really investigate and analyze all the factors that contributed to them.

“I don’t think there is anything organizationally wrong at Boeing. It is not surprising that these problems mainly occur on Boeing aircraft,” Balog said. “There are just more Boeing planes.”

Who is responsible for investigating aviation incidents?

Generally, the National Transportation Safety Board has jurisdiction over accident and incident investigations, and the Federal Aviation Administration, as the industry regulator, also has a role to play, including designing and enforcing new rules based on the findings of the NTSB. Industry stakeholders, such as aircraft and component manufacturers and airlines, can participate in investigations based on the specifics of each incident.

How many problems has Boeing had this year

The Alaska Airlines door plug incident was the main focus of Boeing’s problems, and although Boeing aircraft have been involved in some other high-profile incidents, including a LATAM 787 that took a dive, possibly due to an unexpected cockpit seat movement, the manufacturer was not directly involved.

▶ JANUARY 2024: A cabin blowout forces Alaska Air to perform an emergency landing of its recently purchased 737 MAX 9 aircraft, prompting the FAA to ground 171 of the planes and launch an investigation. The FAA also prohibits Boeing from increasing MAX production, but will lift the grounding of MAX-9s once inspections are completed.

▶ FEBRUARY 2024: The NTSB released its preliminary report on the Alaska Air incident involving a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. According to the investigation, four key bolts appeared to be missing from the door panel that flew off the plane mid-flight.

▶ MARCH 2024: The FAA 737 MAX production audit found multiple instances where Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems allegedly failed to meet production quality control requirements.

Contributions: Reuters

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at

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