SAN JOSE (KPIX) — Bay Area travelers felt the impact Thursday from the decision to ban the Boeing 737 Max nationwide as investigators try to figure out the cause of last week’s fatal Ethiopia Airlines crash.
There is now a worldwide ban of the aircraft after the March 10 accident that killed all 157 passengers and crew on board.
Southwest Airlines, which carries the largest fleet of the 737 Max in the country, ranked number two in the country Thursday with the highest number of cancellations, according to Flight Aware. The web site reported Southwest had 324 cancellations and 897 delays. American Airlines, which has the second largest fleet of the 737 Max, ranked number three with 162 cancellations and 697 delays, according to the site.
“My 89-year-old mother called me five times to warn me and tell me not to take the flight,” said Adrianne Gorman, who was catching a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to Southern California.
She said she was concerned that she’d be flying on a 737 Max.
“And I kind of looked into seeing if that’s the one we’re going to fly, hoping that it wasn’t,” she said.
But retired pilot Capt. Dick Deeds believes the Boeing 737 is safe, and the decision to ground them was premature.
“I would get on one today, on an American carrier,” Deeds said.
Investigators are trying to determine if causes of the Ethiopia crash and last year’s deadly Lion Air crash are linked.
But Deeds, also a former airplane accident investigator, has looked at the data released on both crashes and believes there is a software bug in the 737 Max that has to be fixed. He thinks a glitch in the software is causing the plane’s stabilizer, which keeps the aircraft straight, to lose control. When it does, he said, the stabilizer wheel inside the cockpit begins to turn.
But he said there is a simple fix.
“All I have to do as a pilot is grab that wheel or turn those two switches off right there,” he pointed to a picture of the stabilizer wheel and controls, which sits in the middle of both the pilot and co-pilot.
U.S. pilots, he said, are well trained in the scenario. In fact, he said he’s encountered the issue while in flight before.
But outside the country, training isn’t so stringent. The co-pilot in the Ethiopian Airlines crash had only logged 200 hours of flight experience.
“If a co-pilot got on my airplane with 200 hours I’d say ‘adios,'” Deeds said.
He added that U.S. pilots have reported the same stabilizer issue with the 737 Max, but have never crashed.
“There has not been an incident in the American carrier airlines,” he said. “There have been five reports of this thing happening, but it was all handled very simply. Why? Our training is good.”
Southwest told its customers in an email Thursday that it grounded all 34 of its Max aircraft.
While the email also said that more than 95 percent of its aircraft are unaffected by the ban, there were a few cancellations at Mineta airport Thursday. This comes just weeks after the airlines suffered a record number of cancellations and delays over a union dispute.
Despite the inconvenience to some travelers, Gorman said she has more peace of mind flying because of the ban.
“I’m more comfortable that they’re grounded,” she said.