Is it safe flying a Southwest Airline B737-800 aircraft from North America to Hawaii? This is a question many experts are asking these days. A Boeing spokesperson responded: “We are respectfully declining to comment and participate in your story.”
It appears Boeing was spooked after eTN questioned safety when using an aircraft designed for short- and medium-haul flights for a long-haul over-water route. The Boeing 737 was initially known as the “City Jet” for short-haul city-to-city flights.
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Just yesterday, Southwest Airlines successfully concluded a flight on their B737-800 from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii. The airline needed to showcase this flight to obtain an ETOPS certification to fly over the Pacific Ocean on a 2-engine aircraft. Normally FAA requires at least 1.5 years of trouble-free operation to issue such a certificate. This was waived for the 787 with some near disasters early on.
A flight from LAX to HNL takes approximately 5 hours over the ocean with no alternative landing fields in the event of a failure or an emergency. Therefore, a 737 must be able to continue to Honolulu or go back to LA. It has to be rated by the FAA for ETOPS 180, which means it must be able to fly for 3 hours on a single engine since the midpoint of the flight would be around 2.5 hours.
The 737 was designed as a 2-engine airliner for short- and medium-haul flights of 2,000 miles or less, but with more reliable engines, it is now flying over the North Atlantic from New York City to Ireland and over the Gulf of Mexico from Tampa or Orlando, Florida, to Panama City and other Latin American destinations or the Caribbean.
United Airlines started service on this aircraft from the U.S. West Coast to Honolulu some time ago and was forced to include an unscheduled landing in San Francisco on sold-out flights trying to make it from LAX nonstop to HNL. This was to make sure there was enough fuel available to take the aircraft all the way to Hawaii. San Francisco to Honolulu is the shortest direct distance between the U.S. Mainland and Honolulu.
If there would be a 2-engine failure over the Pacific there is no place to land, and survival is unlikely. A one-engine failure is problematic as is a fire or other mechanical issue requiring an emergency landing; a situation over the Pacific would escalate all this. The scary point is that in a typical year, there are 250 emergency landings.
The seating and bathrooms in the 737 MAX are exceedingly cramped for long flights and will likely result in more DVT and other issues for obese or disabled passengers.
Besides a recent fatal crash of Lion Air in Indonesia, where Boeing Co. withheld information about potential hazards associated with a new flight-control feature, Xiamen Airlines had a crash on a B737-800 in Manila. Another incident scared 47 passengers on an Air Niugini Boeing 737-800, who survived a crash into the Pacific Ocean 159 yards of Chuuk Airport, a tiny island in Micronesia.
A Bangladesh 737-800 plane landed with nose gear retracted and on fire.