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The 787 Dreamliner: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Update9

Aviation fuel comes out of the left wing of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner during a test flight at Boeing Field. Photo by Brandon Farris.

Aviation fuel comes out of the left wing of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner during a test flight at Boeing Field. Photo by Brandon Farris.

The past 7 weeks have not been one to write home about for the 787 program, from a couple of diversions, to a fire in Boston along with a couple of fuel leaks.

While events like these are expected it has come at a bad time with all of them being so close together and has caused major public scrutiny of the aircraft. We are going to take a look back at what has happened in the last seven weeks to lead to the events of yesterday causing the launch carrier, All Nippon Airways (ANA) and also Japan Airlines (JAL) to ground its entire fleet of Dreamliners.

The first event was on 04DEC2012, involving United Airlines performing flight 1146 from Houston to Newark when it diverted to New Orleans after the Captain reported getting multiple messages indicating some kind of system error. When calling into ATC the pilot stated that it was an electrical malfunction and directed firefighters to look behind the wing once the aircraft touched down where the electronics bay is located.

The aircraft, N26902 was thoroughly inspected and no arching or proof of any kind of fire was found and the aircraft ferried back to Houston a couple of days later where it re-entered service on 10DEC2012. However on 17DEC2012 United Airlines (UA) reported that it had found another electrical problem on a second 787 in its fleet of 5 at the time.

Just a couple of days later, reports surfaced from Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, that it also had to ground one of its 787’s following a similar electrical issue as the one that the United aircraft suffered after the airplane landed in Doha following its delivery flight. Al Baker was very vocal stating, “These problems are unacceptable because this aircraft has been flying for the last 14 months.”

“Two aircraft having the same problem — the same major problem — so quickly is a cause of concern,” Al Baker said, adding that Doha-based Qatar Air will ask Boeing to cover its losses. “Definitely we will demand compensation. We are not buying airplanes from them to put in a museum.”

The next 4 weeks were quiet and smooth for the 787, until 07JAN2013, when a Japan Airlines 787 that just arrived, deplaned and was sitting at the gate, when cleaners on-board the aircraft noticed smoke billowing into the cabin of the aircraft. Firefighters were called in and by the time that they got there smoke was pouring out of the cargo compartment. The responders were able to quickly find the spot where the smoke was coming from and managed to put the fire out about 45 minutes after it started. While they were attempting to put the fire out one of the lithium ion batteries that powers the aircraft was believed to have been struck by one of the firefighter’s axes and caused the battery to ultimately have a small explosion.

United is confident in the 787 and still operating the aircraft. Photo by Brandon Farris.

United is confident in the 787 and still operating the aircraft. Photo by Brandon Farris.

The incident was significant enough to cause the NTSB to come out and investigate. It was believed that this issue stemmed from something different than the United 787 issues back in December.

“We need to give our technical teams time to really understand the event,” Lori Gunter, spokeswoman for the 787 program, said in a statement at the time. “Anything offered now would be speculation and likely incorrect. It’s just too early to make comparisons to other events or to draw conclusions.”

The next day (08JAN13) things went from bad to just plain outright ugly as a second JAL 787 was on the ground and taxing out to the runway when it had a fuel leak of approximately 40 gallons of JET-A. The aircraft was then towed back to the gate where it was fixed and departed 4 hours later.

It also comes out on 08JAN that UA inspected its fleet of 787’s again following the JAL fire and found improper wiring on 2 of its 6 Dreamliners that have now been corrected.

ANA had incidents on both 09 and 11JAN13 of braking issues on one 787 and a cracked windshield on another. These are very much non-issues and only made the news since the aircraft was already under scrutiny. These kinds of things happen across the world every day from many different aircraft.

On Friday 11JAN13 the FAA and US DOT announce that the 787 will undergo a comprehensive review of all the critical inspections to make sure that no changes are necessary. A team of FAA, Boeing engineers and inspectors will conduct this joint review, with an emphasis on the aircraft’s electrical power and distribution system. The review will also examine how the electrical and mechanical systems interact with each other. “We are confident that the aircraft is safe. But we need to have a complete understanding of what is happening,” said FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta. “We are conducting the review to further ensure that the aircraft meets our high safety standards.”

Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney issued the following statement yesterday after it was announced that the FAA and Boeing will start a review of the 787’s recent issues and critical systems, “Boeing shares the same commitment to air travel safety that Transportation Secretary LaHood and FAA Administrator Huerta spoke of this morning in Washington, D.C. We also stand 100 percent behind the integrity of the 787 and the rigorous process that led to its successful certification and entry into service. We look forward to participating in the joint review with the FAA, and we believe it will underscore our confidence, and the confidence of our customers and the traveling public, in the reliability, safety and performance of the innovative, new 787 Dreamliner.”

At the time, AirlineReporter.com was in SJC covering the inaugural 787 flight to the airport and managed to get this statement from ANA Chairmen of the Board Yoji Ohashi on their take on the events of the week, “We can not give you an official comment, but we are confident about the safety of the Dreamliner.”

That now leads us to yesterday, 15JAN2013, on what appeared to be just another day in Japan but then reports started to float out that and ANA 787 just made an emergency diversion to Takamatsu following the pilots reporting smoke in the cockpit. The aircraft landed without incident and once off of the runway the slides were deployed and passengers evacuated from the aircraft on the tarmac of the airport.

The aircraft involved in the incident was JA804A, which was ZA102 and a part of the certification flights for the 787. This aircraft actually flew the final flight to give the 787 type its official certification. At this time it is still not clear what caused the smoke but we are sure that something will come out in the next couple of days as the FAA and NTSB are both very interested in it.

About an hour after the incident news began to break that ANA was ordering the grounding of all 787’s in its fleet to undergo immediate inspections and would remain grounded until further notice according to officials at a press conference following the incident. Shortly after that JAL announced it would also ground its fleet but did not say for how long. This is pretty significant as it puts 24 787’s between the two carriers on the ground and that is approximately half of the 787’s currently in-service.

ANA has already cancelled all 787 flights to the USA for Wednesday, reports have come in that JAL has closed reservations for its NRT-BOS flight until 22JAN13 meaning a week long suspension at least for that route.

AirlineReporter.com has been attempting to reach out to several 787 carriers for comments and updates on if they also plan on grounding their fleets (please check the updates below for newer comments). At the time of posting this story, Qatar Airways has responded stating, “No comment.” LOT has confirmed their inaugural 787 flight from Warsaw to Chicago is still happening later today. United told us via email, “We inspected all of our 787 aircraft and they are flying as scheduled. We are continuing to support Boeing and the FAA throughout their review.”

Via Twitter and Facebook, it seems that most #AvGeeks would not think twice about flying on a 787 Dreamliner today. But there have been more concerns voiced about the Dreamliner versus when the same question was asked about a week ago.

Airplane Geek Daryl Chapman was nice enough to talk with us briefly on why he wouldn’t fly on the aircraft at this point in time, “just too many problems in such a short time and problems that are rather serious.” He continued stating, “I think the 787 looks great but these problems are too serious seeing its already been delayed for so long.”

Yes, the plane has been delayed several years; however there are always unforeseen things that happen that aren’t in spec. The 787 is not just a small evolution in airline design — it is a revolution. It is the most advanced commercial vehicle ever created, with uncountable advances in many varied technologies. It’s not unexpected that there will be issues that weren’t revealed in testing and every other aircraft has had issues, some much more devastating. Remember, that this is the first new airliner to be put under the scrutiny of social media, which can follow every small up and down the 787 is facing.

Personally, I am scheduled to fly on LOT’s inaugural Warsaw to JFK flight in less than three weeks and I currently have absolutely no second thoughts about getting on the Dreamliner. The airplane has been heavily tested and proven itself to the FAA and other international Aviation Administrations. Let’s just hope the aircraft has a bit more smooth flying from here on out.

UPDATE1 – 1:10pm – LAN’S COMMENT:
(see LAN’s updated comment in Update6 below) AirlineReporter.com received an official comment from LAN Airlines via email: “Since August 2012, when LAN began to receive and operate our first three Boeing 787 Dreamliners, we have conducted regular inspections of all of the aircraft systems in compliance with industry regulations and the recommendations of the manufacturer.  The aircraft has received the same high level of routine maintenance and inspections that we diligently apply to our entire fleet.  The safety of our passengers and the reliability of our fleet is our top priority.”

UPDATE2 – 3:00pm – QATAR PARTIALLY GROUNDS 787:
Reports show that Qatar Airways has canceled its London (LHR) to Doha (DOH) flight 76 today and that the aircraft, A7-BCK, is at least temporarily grounded at LHR. The UK Daily Mail shows that Qatar confirmed the cancellation and stated that safety fears were ‘speculation’ but admitted such cancellations were ‘rare.’  The airline also did not comment on the fate of four other Dreamliner planes in its fleet. It appears that the airline might also be planning to delay its initial launch of the 787 on its Perth Route that was supposed to launch on 01FEB. When trying to book a flight on the airline’s website, it shows a Boeing 777-200LR will be used instead of a 787 Dreamliner.

UDATE3 – 3:15pm – FAA GROUNDS THE 787:
According to multiple sources, the FAA has grounded all Boeing 787 flights. Here is the full FAA statement:

“As a result of an in-flight, Boeing 787 battery incident earlier today in Japan, the FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations.  Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe.

“The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.The in-flight Japanese battery incident followed an earlier 787 battery incident that occurred on the ground in Boston on January 7, 2013. The AD is prompted by this second incident involving a lithium ion battery.

“The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two Model 787 airplanes. The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment.Last Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems with the possibility of further action pending new data and information.

“In addition to the continuing review of the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft’s certification.

“United Airlines is currently the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service. When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, it also alerts the international aviation community to the action so other civil aviation authorities can take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.”

UPDATE4 – 4:35pm – NEW UNITED COMMENT:
United has emailed AR.com: “United will immediately comply with the Airworthiness Directive and will work closely with the FAA and Boeing on the technical review as we work toward restoring 787 service.  We will begin reaccommodating customers on alternate aircraft.” Reaching out to LAN, LOT and other 787 operators for updated comments.

UPDATE5 – 4:50pm – BOEING SPEAKS:
Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney just released the following statement: “The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority.

“Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of The Boeing Company to assist.

“We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity.  We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787’s safety and to return the airplanes to service.

“Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers.”

UPDATE6 – 5:55pm – LAN’S UPDATED STATEMENT:
This updated statement was just sent via email:  “In compliance with the recommendation of the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States (FAA) and in coordination with the Chilean Aeronautical Authority (DGAC), LAN announces that we will temporarily suspend the operation of our three Boeing 787 aircraft.

“Flights that were scheduled to be operated by the 787 will be temporarily replaced with other aircraft in our fleet to mitigate any potential impact that this situation could cause our passengers and cargo clients.  The safety of our operation and our passengers is our top priority and we lament any inconvenience that this may cause.”

UPDATE7 – 7:20PM – AIR INDIA GROUND 787s & LOT CANCELS INAUGURAL 787 FLIGHT:
LOT Airlines has postponed their inaugural Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from Chicago today, but it is unclear if it is related to the FAA  airworthiness directive (AD) or another issues. Jon Ostrower with the Wall Street Journal is reporting on Twitter, “Indian Regulator joins FAA and has asked Air India to temporarily ground its fleet of Boeing 787s.” Still no word from Ethiopian Airlines, but we are trying multiple channels to speak with them.

UPDATE8 – 1/16 8:30AM – IMAGES OF JAL & ANA GROUNDED 787s:

One of JAL's Boeing 787 Dreamliners grounded at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Image by Hiroshi Igami.

One of JAL’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners grounded at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Image by Hiroshi Igami.

One of ANA's Dreamliners grounded at Haneda. Image by Hiroshi Igami.

One of ANA’s Dreamliners grounded at Haneda. Image by Hiroshi Igami.

UPDATE9 – 1/16 9:20AM – UPDATED COMMENTS FROM LOT AND QATAR:
From LOT: “Today also European regulator, EASA, confirmed FAA recommendations, and LOT is fully compliant with them. 

“Two of currently operated by LOT aircrafts are grounded until all recommendations will be implemented and planes will be re-checked by technical staff.

 “Following FAA statement we would like to confirm, that LOT will cooperate both with Boeing and FAA to develop a corrective action plan to allow our fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.”

Statement from Qatar Airways: “Following instructions by both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States and Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority, Qatar Airways is implementing the Airworthiness Directive issued by the FAA for all operators of the Boeing 787 to ground the aircraft, effective today 17 January 2013.”

Regarding current situation we would like to inform, that all our long-haul operations will be continued with 767 aircrafts, except today’s flight to Beijing, which will be cancelled.

This story written by…Brandon Farris, Correspondent. Brandon is an avid aviation geek based in Seattle. He got started in Photography and Reporting back in 2010. He loves to travel where ever he has to to cover the story and try to get the best darn shot possible.@BrandonsBlog | RightStuffPhotography | Flickr

26 comments to The 787 Dreamliner: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Update9

  • While I don’t necessarily support the alarmist view that there is something wrong with the aircraft and one should not fly on it, to brush off that argument with “it’s a revolutionary design” is just as silly. Just because it is revolutionary, does not mean that it is ok for numerous aircraft to encounter some electronic glitches that cause smoke in the cabin. That’s what certification testing is for – not to certify the aircraft because it’s good enough or because it’s been taking too long already – but to certify that it is safe to fly. Smoke in the cockpit or fuel leaks are not “safe to fly” conditions.

    • brad

      You must have inside information to be proclaiming with such confidence that these issues were apparent during the flight test program and were subsequently ignored. (where is my eye-rolling emoticon?)

  • Smoke in the cockpit,fuel leaks, cracked windscreens,electrical problems. you know all these things can happen to any type of aircraft, not just new ones. what does damage the life of the Boeing 787 and to those who design and build them is people like yourself by mocking it, giving it a bad name all because it has a few teething problems, which in turn will iron out. So please, give it a rest and let Boeing get on with the importance of getting the Boeing 787 teething problems out of the way and getting this fine bird to the top of every ones list of being the best airliner Boeing ever built.

    • Brandon Farris

      Hey David,

      I just wanted to clear a couple of things up, if you notice through out the article, I never bash the aircraft, I merely stated the facts of the events that happened in the last 7 weeks of an informational post and update on the events even pointing out in the 12th Paragraph about the window crack and break issues being non issues as these are things that happen to aircraft around the world daily. I love the 787 and standby it, also at the end of the article I even re-assure how safe I feel the plane is that I am still willing to fly on it.

      Thanks,
      Brandon Farris

  • Lukasz

    LOT also had couple of problems with its Dreamliners.

  • It has been clarified that there was no smoke in the cockpit/cabin during flight, even after the battery malfunction. The airflow systems prevent this from happening. Once the plane landed, the airflow systems don’t operate in the same way, so smoke had potential to get into the cockpit/cabin. Pilots elected to emergency land based on battery indicator combined with strange smell; at least that’s the official comment from ANA.

  • Carl

    Come on Boeing! I am scheduled on IAH-LAX on 0205 and want to ride Y+.

  • Tarek S. Niazi

    Charged particles arriving from the Sun are trapped along the magnetic field force lines. The continuous weakening of Earth Magnetic field allows a percentage of such charged particles, namely protons, not to get trapped and to penetrate into the Troposphere layer where most air travel takes place. As a result, increased proton levels at the surface of Earth has been detected in recent years. Additional doses of protons are also detected and are mostly associated with mild to strong Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) that randomly fire from the Sun towards of Earth. The rush of such additional protons, at small instants, leads to increased penetration into the magnetic field and arrival to the Troposphere of instant surges of positively charged electric particles. Jet airliners used to employ Aluminum as the main material in their primary structure including the fuselage. Carbon composites material is introduced lately into the composition of the structure of jet airliners. It is well-known that Aluminum enjoys 1,000 fold better conductivity than Carbon composites. The decrease of Aluminum and increase of Carbon composites into the structure of jet airliners leads the fuselage to become less conductive and less able to electrically ground the arrival of a random surges of charged particles. Fuselage poor conductivity allows charged protons to penetrate into the main cabin. This could cause increased radiation doses as well as the possibility to damaging electronic circuits and electric batteries; causing fire! This analysis still requires further and elaborate tests and coordination.

  • John-Alan

    Not sure whether it’s worth an update or not, but EASA has also adopted an emergency AD grounding the 787 (which affects LOT’s fleet).

    http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/european-regulator-adopts-faas-787-grounding-381166/

  • Trevor Barlow

    Come on folks…..glad your not real pilots with all this scare mongering….I was around with TWA when the 747 was introduced and they certainly had their problems – some quite harrowing and very interesting! The 787 situation is no different from any new technology airplane entering service today -it’s bound to have in service issues and with the instant communication these days available via Twitter etc these things get magnified and false information distributed way too fast by so called experts…..let’s take a cautious wait and see policy, I thinks hat’s a more professional approach to the situation.

    • Brandon Farris

      We agree, this is a new age with social media. It will be the same way sadly when the A350 begins testing and enters service.

    • Pilots? These issues have little to do with pilots and everything to do with avionics/aeronautic engineering oversight.

      That cautious “wait and see” approach bespeaks a mindset less concerned with passenger safety and more concerned about… something else. It is an enormous undertaking to place passenger lives in the service of fly by wire ONLY systems.

      “wait and see?” What, wait and see one fully loaded nose in on a metropolitan area?

      No, I think commenter Niazi (Kudos)is much closer to the truth than many “wait and seers” might hope others will believe.

      Afterall, we are talking about massive carbon skin surface areas (effectively acting as large capacitors)collecting prodigious amounts of positive charge during flight, as well as the sun’s increased radiation.

      http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_earthchanges31.htm

      Blessings in Christ

  • Carl

    United 6863 from KVCV arrived at LAX this afternoon? Could it be used as a sub for LAX-NRT (UA32/33)?

    • Brandon Farris

      It could be, but the aircraft was coming out of paint to the new brand. It is aircraft N787UA. That reg is kinda ironic as it will be one of the sub aircraft for 33/32 for now.

  • John-Alan

    In the your last update (#9) the following paragraph is placed below the Qatar statement: Regarding current situation we would like to inform, that all our long-haul operations will be continued with 767 aircrafts, except today’s flight to Beijing, which will be cancelled.

    However given that Qatar does not have 767s and LOT does I’m guessing this was part of LOT’s statement?

  • B.Dela Cruz

    We all just want a happy flight and safer for all of us to reach our destination. To all airlines around the world keep us safe please in the name of the lord and we will taking more flights and depend on your safety and concern. KEEP US SAFE PLEASE….

    • Brandon Farris

      Sometimes breaking in the airplane is how you find issues, to me what is more interesting is the fact that this never happened even once during the test flights that flew for about 2 years. I am curious to see what is going to happen now that the NTSB has stated that the batteries didn’t overcharge.

  • Sam

    Damn ANA especially and many other airline companies ought to be very angry right now. Let’s imagine that each plane carries 300000$ worth of passengers (in ticket price). Then let’s assume each flight takes 10 hours. The plane would then do 2 flights per day for a total of 600000$ per day. Multiply that by the 49 aircraft currently delivered and it amounts to 29.4 million $ per day. I imagine it will take at least 30 days, so let’s say the ordeal ends in 50. 29.4 million*50=1.47 billion dollars. This might HEAVILY hurt boeing. 1.47 billion on top of the sure to be needed repair costs. Ouch. Boeing may be in for a very bad year and I imagine that ANA is definitely going to be ordering some A350s and cancelling their 787-9 aircraft.

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