The Gulf states love records. The newest, biggest, fastest, most expensive – they want it all. Almost every day there is some new press release from a company boasting about a new world-beating achievement. Yesterday’s big news was fairly typical – “World’s largest roller-coaster restaurant opens in Abu Dhabi”. Mostly these are attention-seeking bits of nonsense but perfectly harmless. A recent press release from Etihad was rather more serious though.
“Etihad Airways sets new world record for the replacement of GE90 aircraft engine” is in rather a different league to records about the world’s largest roller-coaster restaurant. On the one hand, it is impressive that Etihad engineers, working in co-operation with GE, were able to replace the world’s largest jet engine in less than seven hours whereas it normally takes 20-25 hours. More efficient working techniques should always be encouraged and can help everyone but this does lead to a slightly uneasy feeling. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the new techniques used were anything less than 100% safe but boasting about speed where safety is concerned gives the wrong impression. All that passengers want to know is that replacement engines are fitted correctly – world records are irrelevant.
Patients might be pleased to learn that surgeons have developed a new technique for a form of brain surgery but they probably do not want to know that the new process is faster or a world record. All they want to know is that it is safe and efficient.
And on the question of efficiency, Etihad has a few points to answer. Quite simply, the airline’s punctuality record is not what it should be and for the last few months it seems to have been languishing in the bottom half of the league table alongside airlines like Air India and El Al. Just as we are sceptical about silly world records, we do not completely trust these league tables. Some airlines can have extenuating circumstances such as a run of bad weather at their hub airport. Also, many airlines cheat by simply cancelling flights they think might get delayed and that causes far greater disruption to passengers. The real test is how many passengers get to their destinations within a reasonable time. Nonetheless, it does look as if Etihad has some work to do with its punctuality. Improving reliability is mostly a question of getting the little things right and meticulous planning.
Time-keeping has nothing to do with establishing world records for fast engine-changes. Etihad would be better leaving the record-breaking attempts to roller-coaster restaurants.