United Airlines CEO addresses safety concerns in letter to customers

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2023 was the safest year ever for commercial air travel, but after several high-profile aviation incidents in 2024, the general public is paying closer attention to airline safety.

The occurrence of several attention-grabbing events over the past few weeks, in particular, prompted United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby to address the topic of airline safety in a memo to customers on Monday.

In his first public comments on the recent spate of safety-related situations, some of which have involved United jets, Kirby said that safety was the airline’s top priority, but acknowledged that United had experienced “a number” of incidents in a short period.

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“While they are all unrelated, I want you to know that these incidents have our attention and have sharpened our focus,” Kirby wrote. “Our team is reviewing the details of each case to understand what happened and using those insights to inform our safety training and procedures across all employee groups.”

Kirby added that the airline was already in the process of implementing several safety enhancements that were planned before the recent episodes, including adding an extra day of training for pilots and creating a new centralized training curriculum for maintenance technicians.

“I’m confident that we’ll learn the right lessons from these recent incidents and continue to run an operation that puts safety first and makes our employees and customers proud,” Kirby added.

Airline safety has been in the spotlight since a Jan. 5 incident aboard an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9, during which a door plug that seals part of the fuselage blew off the jet midflight and caused the cabin to depressurize.

Intense scrutiny has focused on Boeing, with the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary investigation finding that Boeing failed to replace bolts that hold the door plug in place after removing them during assembly.

Since then, a number of incidents involving Boeing aircraft have garnered significant attention, while several episodes involving United flights, specifically, have put the airline at the center of the public discussion

Earlier this month, a United Airlines 737 MAX rolled off a runway into the grass at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston (IAH), causing part of its landing gear to collapse. A day earlier, a tire fell from a Boeing 777-200 flown by United as it departed from San Francisco International Airport (SFO), damaging cars in an employee parking lot below.

Also earlier this month, a United Airbus A320 en route from San Francisco International Airport to Mexico City International Airport (MEX) made an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) after an issue with a hydraulics system.

Although it did not involve United, the latest Boeing-related incident occurred on Friday when a 25-year-old United Boeing 737-800 was found to be missing an external panel that covers mechanical equipment on the underside of the plane during a routine inspection after completing a flight to Rogue Valley International Medford Airport (MFR) in Oregon.

No one was hurt in any of the incidents.