EDITORIAL – Grounding Max 8 jets was the right call

Cayman Airways officials were right to ground the fleet’s two Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after Sunday’s horrific crash in Ethiopia.

Their quick action, and the Cayman Islands Aviation Authority’s subsequent decision to ban the Max 8 from Cayman’s airspace, sends a clear signal that our top priority is the safety of passengers and crew.

Cayman Airways was among the first airlines in the world to ground its Max 8 planes after Sunday’s tragic incident, which killed 157 people. We applaud their abundance of caution. Taking the planes out of service while investigators search for answers may cause a few scheduling headaches, but it was the right thing for officials to do.

It is not yet known what caused the accident, or last fall’s fatal crash of another Max 8 in Indonesia – a Lion Air flight which crashed minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board. Aviation experts say there simply is not enough information to determine whether the planes malfunctioned or otherwise contributed to the crashes.

That has not assuaged the fears of worried travelers or prevented them from drawing their own conclusions. By midday, dozens of carriers in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and Asia had grounded their Max 8 jets as a precautionary measure. Entire countries prohibited their operations. The planes had been banned from airspace in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Indonesia-based aviation expert Gerry Soejatman told the Associated Press on Tuesday that airlines were being flooded with inquiries in a global response he likened to “mass hysteria.” Both Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration gave assurances on Tuesday that they believe the Max 8 jet is safe.

Founded or unfounded, there is no question that travelers’ concerns are deeply felt.

As the Compass reports on today’s front page, Cayman’s visitors and residents overwhelmingly applauded officials’ decision on social media. Traveler Robert Smith wrote on the Compass Facebook page, “Cayman Airways has an exceptional safety record and this decision shows one reason why.”

There is no cause to panic. Nor is there any lasting harm in grounding the planes until more is known.

It is also worth remembering that air travel is normally an exceptionally safe way to travel. As heartbreaking as they may be, that two crashes a half-year apart and half a world away can generate this type of strong response, is a testament to just how unusual an occurrence air-related accidents truly are.

As the New York Times noted in an article on Tuesday, more than 340 Max 8 planes are currently registered with aviation authorities. In a single week last month, Max 8 planes flew more than 8,500 fights, flight tracking service Flightradar24 told Times reporters.

If the two accidents do prove to have been nothing but terrible coincidence, the world will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

But there are times when our perception of safety, and officials’ response to troubling situations, is as important as the actual truth.