AIRFRAME by Michael Crichton – book review

Workers’ Rights, Women’s Issues, Global Commerce, and Economic Impact On Community.

Editor’s Note: Should Hollywood ever make Airframe into a movie, I have included ideas of who I’d like to see in the parts.

Besides being a nonstop suspense mystery, Michael Crichton’s AIRFRAME is a well-reasoned plea for government oversight and safety regulation of today’s passenger airline industry.

This 448-page fiction novel begins with an inflight emergency aboard a Hong Kong passenger jet bound for Denver. Amid severe turbulence, the pilot and two passengers are dead, several others are seriously injured, and no one knows why.

The plane’s manufacturer “Norton Aircraft” assigns quality control officer Casey Singleton (a 12-year veteran of Norton) to lead the investigation.

Singleton (a recently divorced mother, trying to provide for her 10-year-old daughter) is also training her new “assistant”.  With unseen motivations of his own, Bob Richman is a young, newly hired executive with no airline experience whatsoever.  Radiating “an unmistakable sense of entitlement” – Richman is a relative in the Norton family tree working his way through the corporate divisions.

Casey Singleton realizes – in all likelihood – she soon will be working for Bob Richman.  Not for the first time, we see AIRFRAME’s layers of social implications.  Real-world complexities.

As Casey shows him the ropes, Bob’s mind is usually elsewhere.  Fortunately for us readers –  we hear every word, and are privy to a thorough education on every conceivable nuance, corner & nook of this highly complex industry.

Indeed AIRFRAME is edutainment at its finest.

Adding another layer of dimension – the Workers Union has reason to believe Norton is gearing up to outsource work to China.  Fortunately for Casey, she’s good friends with the local foreman – a large, intimidating bear of a man who (as a friend) encourages Casey to take some time off, because “these guys get nervous,” and he’d hate to see anything bad happen to Casey.  (If this story ever makes it to the big screen, James Gandolfini is perfect for this part).

In the air traffic control tower, we listen in on the radio chatter with the Hong Kong airline.  We watch as a pilot qualifies in Norton’s flight simulator.  While Bob Richman complains, we learn why coffee isn’t allowed anywhere near aircraft assembly (o! the horror!) From design to production; from periodic maintenance to in-house politics.  From bolts with individual serial numbers to reporters whose ratings outweigh their journalistic integrity.

AIRFRAME throws us into a bewildering hurricane of conflicting alliances, planned obsolescence, and cascades of events.

In this crazy and unstable environment, Crichton makes an eloquent argument in favor of Regulation of aircraft safety and maintenance procedures.

I can’t say enough about this GREAT BOOK!  I learned more from AIRFRAME than I did in 4 years on a B-52 flightline.  For more info, check out http://www.michaelcrichton.net/books-airframe-history.htmlreview by Brian Newberry

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