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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Putting the Dreamliner's Problems In Perspective

Posted by on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 8:31 AM

Patrick "Ask the Pilot" Smith:

The 787 is the world’s newest and most sophisticated commercial jet. It entered service with Japan’s All Nippon Airways in October, 2011. JAL’s Boston-Narita service, introduced last spring, was the first 787 route in North America. The plane’s composite construction, along with much of its systems architecture, is for now unique among commercial jets. Teething problems, let’s call them, are common when new models are introduced. Jetliners undergo rigorous pre-delivery testing, and but they are large and highly complicated machines. Not everything works perfectly right from the blocks....

This is the third serious incident involving the 787′s aft equipment bay. The first two resulted in emergency landings—one by a pre-delivery 787 on a test flight in 2010; the other two months ago by a United 787 in New Orleans. Testing and certification criteria have come a long way since the days of the DC-10 and the Comet, and I am by no means calling the 787 unsafe, but still this trend is a worrying one. It could potentially affect the plane’s certification for overwater flying (so-called ETOPS restrictions dictate how far from diversion airports a twin-engine plane like the 787 is allowed to fly). Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that not every technical problem involving a 787 is indicative of a design flaw. From this point on, we can expect the growing fleet of 787s to be under rather intense scrutiny. That’s good for obvious reasons, but also bad because the media, which goes bonkers over almost anything involving airplanes, is liable to overhype even minor malfunctions that have nothing to do with the plane’s engineering.

I'm a nervous flyer... so, yeah, I'm kindasorta invested in the whole notion that new airplane models should work perfectly "right from the blocks." But I will somehow find the inner strength—or the outer Xanax—to defer Patrick's expertise on this one. (Via BalloonJuice.)


Comments (13) RSS

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After the tail cone fell off an American Airlines A300 and the plane crashed into a neighborhood in Queens (killing everyone on board and some on the ground) a decade ago here in NYC, I haven't been too big on composites for airliners. Let's hope they get the bugs out of the 787. The flight path for landing at one of NY's major airports runs right overhead.
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on January 9, 2013 at 1:03 PM · Report this
JonnoN 12
thankyouthankyouthankyou for letting me know Patrick Smith is writing again after salon kicked him off. I just wish he'd put dates on his articles.
Posted by JonnoN on January 9, 2013 at 11:22 AM · Report this

Posted by capicola on January 9, 2013 at 10:26 AM · Report this
delirian 10
@4: At one point I thought there was a short range 787 model. It doesn't appear than anybody put in any orders for it, so I guess it was cancelled. The planes that are being delivered are essentially designed for long range. The 787-9 model appears to have a range of around 15,000 km. To put that in context, a great circle on the Earth is 40,000 km, which means that the 787-9 is only 5,000 km short of being able to fly from any point to another on the planet, assuming that you are allowed to fly over water and your route falls within the ETOPS time. Boeing is trying for 330 minutes (how long you can be away from an airport to make an emergency landing).
Posted by delirian on January 9, 2013 at 9:53 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 9
@8 don't give them ideas.
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 9, 2013 at 9:36 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 8
I just hope hackers can't bring down these new planes.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on January 9, 2013 at 9:22 AM · Report this
wilbur@work 7
what @1 said, * 1000.
Posted by wilbur@work on January 9, 2013 at 9:17 AM · Report this
I spent this past weekend in Dayton, Ohio. The Wright Brothers' first gliders sucked, too.
Posted by DOUG. on January 9, 2013 at 8:59 AM · Report this
Asparagus! 5
Also, I'd like to add I was on a brand new 737-800 NYC to Seattle this summer, and, man, it was fantastic. Super thin seats means more leg room and 6'3" me was comfy comfy.
Posted by Asparagus! on January 9, 2013 at 8:58 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 4
The 787 is primarily designed for intercontinental flight, isn't it? I know that you go to Europe sometimes, but if I'm correct, you're pretty unlikely to fly one in your regular cross-country travels.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 9, 2013 at 8:58 AM · Report this
Asparagus! 3
That's a lot flight. Did you sleep? It might have crashed while you were sleeping.
Posted by Asparagus! on January 9, 2013 at 8:57 AM · Report this
Bob Anderton 2
I recently flew the 787 on Japan’s All Nippon Airways from Japan to Seattle. To the best of my recollection we did not crash. Plus it has pretty lights and bigger windows inside.
Posted by Bob Anderton on January 9, 2013 at 8:53 AM · Report this
The planes will be fine, Boeing's workforce will see to that. But I hope the PR challenge serves the most-excellent purpose of throwing a huge enough scare into Boeing's Chicago tower-of-suits that they treat outsourcing like a hot stove for a few decades to come.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 9, 2013 at 8:47 AM · Report this

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