The Boeing 777 is considered one of the safest aircraft in the skies, with barely a blemish on its 19-year safety record, a fact that has only deepened the mystery over the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jet.
The crash landing of an Asiana 777 in San Francisco in July last year was the first fatal incident involving the model; three of the 309 people on board died.
The Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER jet had been operating for 12 years and had logged 20,000 hours in the air, a record experts say is typical for a plane of that age.
The Post spoke to Hong Kong pilots with decades of experience behind them, all of whom were extremely surprised by yesterday’s events, especially given the model involved, and the reputation of the airline.
“The 777 is the safest airlines in the skies right now,” said one captain with more than two decades’ experience, adding that “it’s a remarkably safe and reliable aircraft”.
Malaysia Airlines has a strong reputation, the pilot added. Its fleet of planes would be well-maintained.
Before last year’s crash, the 1,000 777 jets in service worldwide had been involved in only one major incident. The came in January 2008, when a British Airways jet landed about 300 metres short of the at London’s Heathrow Airport.
Airlines like the plane because it is capable of flying extremely long distances thanks to two giant engines. Each engine is so massive that a row of at least five economy-class seats could fit inside it.
By having just two engines, the plane burns through less fuel than four-engine jets, like the Boeing 747, which it has essentially replaced.
The 777 was the first twin-engine plane to be immediately certified to fly over the ocean as far as 180 minutes from any emergency landing airport. Government safety regulators have determined that it could fly for nearly three hours on a single engine in the case of an emergency.
Such government approval has enabled airlines to fly routes such as New York to Hong Kong non-stop on the 777.
In addition to its ability to fly long distances and hold a large number of passengers, airlines like the 777 because they can fill its long belly with lots of profitable cargo.
According to data from CAPA Centre for Aviation, the average age of Malaysia Airlines’ 15 Boeing 777-200ER planes is 14.3 years.
The average age of its entire fleet of 93 aircraft is four-and-a-half years.
Malaysia Airlines did have an incident in August 2005 involving a 777 flying from Perth, Australia, to Kuala Lumpur. While flying 11,000 metres above the Indian Ocean, the plane’s software incorrectly measured speed and acceleration, causing it to suddenly ascend 900 metres.
The pilot disengaged the autopilot and descended and landed safely back in Perth. A software update was quickly made on planes around the world.
“We’re closely monitoring reports on Malaysia flight MH370,” Boeing said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with everyone on board.”