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Pickup truck hits Southwest jet at BWI Airport, latest in recent string of incidents for airline

A pickup truck crashed into a Southwest Airlines jet as it was pulling into a gate at BWI Marshall Airport just after midnight Monday — the latest in a recent string of safety incidents for the airline.

Monday’s incident a few minutes after midnight caused no injuries among the 172 passengers aboard Flight 6263 from Fort Lauderdale, Southwest said. But it follows an incident April 17 when a passenger was killed and seven others injured after shrapnel from a failed engine shattered a window aboard one of its planes mid-flight and another last week in which a cracked window forced an emergency landing.

Southwest, the dominant carrier at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, reported that it’s seeing slightly weaker ticket sales following the fatal engine failure, but experts don’t expect any long-lasting impact on the Dallas-based airline or the airport.

Any airplane accident usually generates news coverage — especially when several happen in quick succession — but keeping each in context is crucial, said Mike Rioux, chief operating officer at JDA Aviation Technology Solutions, a Bethesda-based aviation safety consulting firm.

The April 17 accident aboard Flight 1380 from New York to Dallas caused the first passenger fatality in Southwest’s nearly 60-year history, while no one was injured by the cracked window aboard Flight 957 from Chicago to New Jersey, which prompted it to land in Cleveland last week.

The crash Monday by a Southwest-owned pickup truck appeared to be due to simple human error, Rioux said.

The airline released only a brief statement in response to the incident and did not say what caused the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board was monitoring the situation, but had not launched a formal investigation, a spokesman said.

“Even though it looks like it would be an indication people are falling asleep at the switch at Southwest, it wouldn’t give me any concern of whether they’re doing their jobs,” Rioux said.

He noted that minor incidents like the truck crash occur at airports across the globe on a regular basis, and aren’t cause for concern.

“I see this stuff every day,” Rioux said. “Worldwide, there were probably 12 similar events.”

Passengers’ photos showed a white pickup truck with no front bumper and a rumpled hood next to the front wheels of the plane.

Responding to a tweet from one passenger, Michael Simon, the airline said it was "glad to hear everyone made it safely to BWI" but that it regretted the inconvenience.

Following record passenger revenues of $4.6 billion in the first quarter of the year, Southwest said in its most recent earnings statement that it expected a 1 percent to 3 percent drop in fare revenue in the second quarter — in part “attributable to recent softness in bookings following the Flight 1380 accident.”

While the three recent incidents don’t appear related, any airline can take a significant financial hit from even the perception of a lack of safety, said P.K. Kannan, dean’s chair in marketing science at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“All of them occurring to a particular airline in succession can have an impact,” he said. “There certainly could be the perception that they are not operationally sound.”

In reality, however, an airline is likely to become hypersensitive to safety protocols after an incident and ramp up its maintenance and inspection programs, Kannan said.

And unless problems persist, concerns about safety often take a back seat to cost and convenience, he said. After all, as customers, airline passengers have far fewer options among airlines than they do among restaurants, for example, he said.

“I think initially they might have some impact,” Kannan said of the recent incidents. “But over time people might forget about them, and then it’s back to business as usual.”

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said the state-run airport has not lost faith in its largest carrier, which has a hub at the airport and is responsible for about 70 percent of its flights.

“Aviation remains an extraordinarily safe mode of transportation,” he said. “We remain confident in Southwest Airlines and its commitment to safety.”

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