Sun, Aug 26, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Glory going down in blazes

On Monday, another China Airlines jet crashed, marking the fourth aviation accident for the airline in the past 13 years. Many predict that this accident will aggravate the already poor financial situation of the company. As China Airlines has historical significance to Taiwan -- it is a state-owned enterprise and was the first and only airline flying international links for decades -- the latest accident has caused mixed feelings for many people in Taiwan.

China Airlines really should thank its lucky stars that all 165 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 737-800 survived the accident -- barely escaping from the plane only seconds before an explosion that mostly likely would have killed everyone on board. It was also extremely lucky that the explosion took place after the jet safely landed, rather than in the air. It was also very lucky that someone in the control tower of Naha Airport spotted the flames and told the pilots about it.

Three lucky breaks -- very lucky, indeed.

Unfortunately, when it comes to aviation safety, counting on luck just does not cut it -- especially we see such a long series of lucky breaks like this. Perhaps this explains why the two prior crashes of China Airlines jets caused the deaths of hundred of passengers: There was no good luck to be had on those occasions.

While it is true that the crew of the Boeing 737-800 performed admirably in evacuating all the passengers within only a few seconds of learning about the engine fire, this is no reason to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

This is a time for examining what has gone wrong with China Airlines. For an airline with such a patchy track record, ranking nearly at the bottom of 50 airlines world-wide in terms of aviation safety, it simply does not make sense to explain it all away as "bad luck."

The 737-800 was relatively new -- only 5 years old -- and had just completed a routine check-up in July. The experienced pilot had actually flown President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) Air Force One jet before.

Preliminary investigations after the crash found that a bolt pierced the jet's fuel tank, causing fuel leakage and the subsequent fire and explosion. The question that remains is: Why? Reportedly, accidents of this type have never happened before. Hopefully, further investigation and analysis will give an answer.

China Airlines had a fairly glorious past. As the only Taiwan-based state-owned airline, its image was virtually synonymous with that of the "Republic of China" (ROC) government during the Chinese Nationalist government era. It was once the pride and joy of many in Taiwan, as China Airlines displayed the ROC flag as its logo on the tails of its jets all over world. This did much more to promote Taiwan than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could ever have done in the face of the nation's diplomatic isolation.

However, in recent years, the allure of China Airlines has faded significantly. Fierce competition from other airlines such as Eva Air (the other Taiwan-based airline), poor financial performance, and of course repeated crashes bringing sky-rocketing insurance premiums -- all of these have taken their toll. How can China Airlines rediscover its previous glory? The airline's management faces a tough task.

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