Aging Boeing 737 in Cuba Crash Had Strong Safety Record, Unlike the Airline Operating It

View after takeoff from Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí

By Paul Riegler on 20 May 2018
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The Boeing 737-200 that crashed shortly after taking off from Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí in Havana was one of the oldest passenger airliners still in operation and was believed to be airworthy although questions remain about the operator of the flight, a little-known Mexican charter company hired by Cubana de Aviación.

Founded in 1929, the story of Cubana de Aviación, Cuba’s flagship carrier, mirrors that of the island nation. As so much of Cuba’s infrastructure began to slowly deteriorate following economic sanctions by the United States and the fall of the Soviet Union, so did the airline.

What became Cuba’s worst air disaster in three decades came as little surprise to those in the know.

The plane’s first owner, back in 1979, was Piedmont Airlines, a major U.S. airline that was acquired by USAir in 1989 and that had entered the jet age in 1967 with the Boeing 727.

In keeping with Piedmont’s tradition of naming aircraft, the plane – then with tail number N76N and decades later with the tail number XA-UHZ – was christened Volunteer Pacemaker, and was a stable mate of other 737-200s that included the Empire State Pacemaker, the Research Triangle Pacemaker, and the Great Lakes Pacemaker. It

The 737-200 itself is essentially a 737-100 with an extended fuselage. The 737-200 first entered service with launch customer United in 1968 while the 737-100 entered service earlier the same year.

Since then, the plane had changed ownership half a dozen times before ending up at Aerolineas Damojh, which also operates using the name Global Air. Aerolineas Damojh is a small Mexico-based charter operator with a total of three aircraft in its fleet.

Recently, Cubana found it necessary to cancel domestic flights and remove many of its older aircraft from service over safety concerns. A Cubana aircraft was not involved in the crash, however.

The crash follows a period during which commercial aviation experienced an unparalleled safety record worldwide. The year 2017 was the first year since the dawn of commercial aviation in which there wasn’t a single fatal accident by a regularly scheduled airliner although there were two incidents including the Cubana de Aviación crash that resulted in loss of life in the first half of 2018.

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