It’s tempting to misinterpret these recent events as sign of a major systemic breakdown, or a disaster narrowly averted. Indeed, for an airline to remove hundreds of jets from service is extremely costly, and would seem to imply a state of imminent danger. But these aircraft were not in an unsafe condition, and nobody’s lives had been put at risk. Taking the planes out of service was an entirely preventive measure — albeit a drastic one, in part driven by the FAA’s eagerness to save face. Together, these incidents are less a harbinger of disaster than a wake-up call that should help us avoid one.

Patrick Smith weighs in on the American Airlines groundings in his wonderful Salon column, Ask the Pilot. He gets more into the details of maintenance and safety here.