Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

These are trying times for airlines -- and especially for the companies that manufacture their planes.

As Boeing's CEO Dennis Muilenberg performs countless mea culpas before Congress -- after two fatal crashes and the subsequent grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX -- American Airlines, Southwest, and United have all had to wonder when these planes will come back into service.

If ever.

Between them, the three airlines have 72 of these planes. 

It seemed as if Delta Air Lines had soared above the controversy.

It didn't participate in 737 MAX orders.

Instead, it invested in the Airbus A220, 25 of which are already in service.

These are fine planes. They actually offer improved comfort and even a restroom with a window.

Now, however, a few problems are beginning to emerge and many U.S. passengers are likely unaware.

Just two weeks ago, Swiss International Airlines was forced to ground all its 29 Airbus A220 planes. This was after one of them had to perform an emergency landing on its way to Geneva.

What was the problem? Pieces of the engine started to fall off somewhere over France.

In Canada and Europe, the plane is now under certain restrictions.

Above 29,000 feet, it can now be flown only at 94 percent of its power.

Moreover, pilots can't fly it above 35,000 feet if there's a danger of frost. It seems that the anti-freeze system may overtax the engines, set off alarms, and force the pilots to make an emergency landing.

Sometimes, events over there take their time to create an impact over here, and the Swiss planes are back flying.

Still, on Tuesday the Federal Aviation Administration expanded an order to inspect the Pratt and Whitney engines in search of cracks in the engine rotors.

The FAA described this as "an urgent safety issue."

The A220 is a plane many U.S. business travelers are already enjoying. 

What, though, should an airline like Delta be telling passengers about the apparent problems with the plane's engines?

Naturally, I asked Delta whether it would take additional steps to reassure passengers.

Would the airline, for example, even consider allowing passengers to book away from these planes free of charge?

A Delta spokesman admitted the airline is concerned: 

We are determining what additional actions might be needed, but Delta has operated our A220 fleet below the engine thrust amounts described in the directive from the FAA. We will continue to do so.

The truth, though, is that passengers don't want to be thinking about amounts of engine thrust. They want to be on a plane that's safe in all circumstances.

The MAX crisis has made passengers think far harder about the type of plane they're flying, not merely the type of airline. 

Awareness of the MAX and its issues is high.

Some studies have suggested it'll be difficult to get passengers back on the MAX, should it ever return to service -- though the rough truth is that passengers may have little choice.

Delta seems to understand the troubling moment. Its spokesman explained: 

As safety is always our top priority for our customers and employees, Delta will meet or exceed directed actions from regulators and manufacturers. There was an additional directive from the FAA that was issued in late September about PW1500G engines that power the A220. We're compliant with that directive as safety is always our top priority.

I don't doubt Delta's commitment to safety, yet regulators don't come out of the MAX debacle looking too good either. Many airline employees and regular passengers now know this.

Why, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants -- which represents the 28,000 flight attendants who work at American Airlines -- just wrote to Boeing's Muilenberg and declared: 

It is clear that there were serious breakdowns in the supervision of the 737 MAX and we have fundamental questions about whether the FAA has the resources necessary for oversight moving forward.

The communications dilemma is clear. If Delta alerts customers to these issues, fear will increase. If it doesn't communicate with passengers, they may be unforgiving should something negative occur.

For its part, engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney is supportive of regulatory authorities' moves: 

We believe this guidance, which was based on investigation findings and flight test data to date, mitigates a condition that could lead to the recent issues experienced with the low pressure compressor.

Airbus described the Canadian restrictions as standard practice.

It's hard, though, not to consider whether airlines have put so much pressure on aircraft manufacturers -- and those manufacturers overpromised to make the sale -- that, on occasion, planes enter service without being quite ready for the strains upon which airlines put them.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, another relatively new plane very popular with passengers, has endured considerable engine problems that don't seem to be disappearing.

The Airbus A320 Neo also suffered engine troubles.

In a world that spins ever faster, with seemingly no real purpose other than money-making, might it be an idea for airlines and aircraft manufacturers -- and regulators -- to slow down just a little, so that when a new plane is finally put into service it's truly ready?

Or must passengers occasionally wonder whether the plane they're on is really as sound as it should be? 

Published on: Oct 31, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.