It seems that every time an aviation accident occurs involving an airplane more than about fifteen years old, media reports focus on the airplane's age, when in fact this has little or nothing to do with the accident. (Witness the headlines breathlessly announcing that the Tu-154 was -- gasp -- TWENTY YEARS OLD!)As a retired American Airlines Captain, I just have to roll my eyes and shake my head a bit. I have an informal affiliation with a fearful flier program, so I'm familiar with peoples' concerns; a common one is that the airplane might be old, and therefore about to fall apart. I have to repeatedly assure them that a) they're probably assuming, incorrectly, that because an automobile of a given age can be considered "old," the same applies to an airplane of the same age, and b) an airplane can be maintained in airworthy condition for many decades, so its age is immaterial, anyway.Many of the MD-80s I flew at AA, by the time I retired, were over twenty years old. (And before I was hired by AA, I rarely flew an airplane that was newer than twenty.) [JF note: Until I got a small Cirrus-SR20 airplane in 2000, I had flown only rented Cessnas and Pipers built from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s.]You commented that Category III approaches and landings are automatic. That is mostly true, but there are exceptions. I also flew the Boeing 737-800 for a few years, and it uses a Head-Up Display (HUD), for hand-flown Cat III approaches and landings. Personally, I prefer that to autoland. (The -800, of course, is autoland-capable, but AA elected to use the HUD instead.)
I mentioned earlier today that while the heartbreaking Polish aircraft tragedy might take a long time to be fully explained, initial worried speculation about the "aging" Russian Tupolev-154 aircraft was probably beside the point. Reader Steve Fisher, a long-time professional pilot, writes to say:
James Fallows is a staff writer at The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Jimmy Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the 2018 book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which was a national best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.