Tickets for domestic Chinese flights may be cheap, but really, is it worth it? Last week, we told you about the China Eastern plane that blew out its tires while landing. And over the weekend, reports emerged of a China Southern plane that had its tail cone (the rear of the airplane’s fuselage) fall to the ground “just before the plane was to taxi to the runway”:
Inspectors later found more than a dozen screws linking the tail cone to the rest of the aircraft had fallen out.
An investigation by the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China found that an employee of a food supply company mistakenly touched a handle that dislodges the tail cone and extends an inflatable slide so that passengers can be evacuated in the event of an accident, sources said.
The handle wasn’t fully moved, so the slide didn’t inflate.
The handle is located in a remote part of the plane that could not be reached by passengers, according to an airline official who asked not to be named. The official said a final pre-flight check, which had not yet been performed before the problem was noticed, would include an inspection of the handle to ensure it was in the proper place.
Aiyo. We don’t know much about how airports operate, but we would assume the “final pre-flight check” would occur sometime before the plane was just about to taxi to the runway. Let’s just be happy the tail fell off before the plane took off. And is it really possible that an accidental bump of a handle can cause properly inserted screws to fall out of a passenger airplane? Shouldn’t it be more difficult to remove the tail of an airplane than, say, open a pack of airline peanuts? Why did it take a “security inspector” to notice that a sizeable chunk of the plane had fallen off? Why is a food person anywhere near a handle that makes the plane fall apart?
The plane arrived in Pudong from Dandong, on the North Korean border in Liaoning Province (conspiracy theorists, start your engines) and was scheduled to fly from Pudong to Shenzhen. That didn’t happen.
The plan was a Boeing MD-82, manufactured between 1980 and 1999 and still used regularly today by several major airlines. China Southern has a couple dozen MD-82s in its fleet, and you can learn more than you ever wanted to know about them here. There was a report last April about China Southern wanting to get rid of 11 of their MD-82s that stopped operating in 2005 — we’re not sure if this means they originally had 30-something MD-82s or if they now have slightly more than 10.
Regardless, it doesn’t seem like the plane was the problem here. And that’s the scary part. Planes can be fixed and upgraded. People, for the most part can’t.
And before you say you are switching to the train, in 2005 there were 11,254 train accidents resulting in 7,433 deaths in China, which was an improvement on 2004. We haven’t seen 2006 figures yet.
Image of a China Southern Boeing MD-82 from airfleets.net and then doctored by Shanghaiist.