Boeing can't afford more 787 growing pains

Yet another fire and ongoing mechanical glitches prompt new questions about the much-hyped passenger jet's future.

By Bruce Kennedy Jul 22, 2013 9:20AM

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner flies during a preparation routine for the Paris Air show at Le Bourget on June 14, 2013 (© ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)What's Boeing (BA) to do about its new hard-luck 787 Dreamliner? The plane entered the global marketplace last year and was touted as heralding the next generation of passenger jets. It's a midsize plane that uses lightweight composite materials, a novel electrical system and improved aerodynamics to make it 20% more fuel-efficient than similarly sized planes.

Back in March 2012, Boeing announced that 60 carriers had 868 Dreamliners on order, "making the 787 the fastest-selling widebody airplane in commercial aviation history."

But since then, the 787 has been gaining attention for all the wrong reasons, in part because of its electrical systems, which rely on rechargeable lithium ion batteries.

The latest blows came last week when a 787 operated by Ethiopian Airlines caught fire at London's Heathrow airport. Then a Japan Airways Dreamliner flying from Boston to Tokyo returned to Boston after a fuel pump indicator showed a possible problem.

The current fleet of about 50 Dreamliners was grounded for several months earlier this year after a fire scorched a parked Japan Airlines 787 in Boston in January and a smoking battery led to an emergency landing by an All Nippon Airways 787 in Japan several days later.

Boeing addressed the battery issues (although not by finding and correcting the root cause, which remains unknown), and the 787s took to the skies again. Still, they continue to be plagued by problems. Just last month, three United Airlines (UAL) flights involving 787s were disrupted by mechanical issues.

Boeing's major competitor, Airbus, a subsidiary of Europe's EADS (EADSY), has been through similar problems with a new aircraft. Wing cracks were discovered in its A380 superjumbo jets, which cost the company at least $263 million (€200 million) last year to repair.

But Boeing is facing an economic nightmare if these electrical and mechanical glitches continue and erode both airline and public confidence in its Dreamliner.

"This is one of the key aircraft Boeing is depending on for its success for the next 20 years," aviation consultant John Strickland told The Guardian on Friday, "with over 900 already ordered -- and airlines are also depending on the fuel savings for their businesses."

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Jul 22, 2013 12:04PM

 Worthless trash talk journalism like this proves your ignorance on how complex these machines are to design and build.     Yeah they had a battery issue, a clogged oil filter, braking software change, and a beacon issue.           There will always be bugs to work out on a new airframe.


Boeing's factories are booked for the next 7 years.    Winning!

Jul 22, 2013 2:00PM
The 787 Dreamliner it will be known as the best plane the Boeing Company ever built.  These very complex machines have thousand of parts acting together and  it's not unusual that some minor problems be encountered, but the notice the planes keeps on flying safely the skies of he World.
Jul 22, 2013 12:35PM

Are those airlines that placed 7 years worth of planes cancelling their orders?  It doesn't appear that they are.


All folks reading the stories where the media bashes Boeing need to remember that Boeing built a new, non-union facility in South Carolina to perform final assembly of the 787s, which are assembled from components manufactured elsewhere.  Leave it to the liberal media to perform a smear job on Boeing on behalf of the bitter union leaders.


Other than the battery issue, these other "glitches" appear to have less to do with the new technologies being introduced on this plane, and more to do with normal teething pains associated with the introduction of any new plane.

Jul 22, 2013 4:38PM
I have flown on the Dreamliner and it is the finest  plane I have ever flown on. Great windows, comfortable seats large overheads and just seems to float effortlessly. Very quiet as well. Boeing will get it worked out.
Jul 22, 2013 3:02PM
I am beginning to have my doubts about this aircraft.  When you let thousands of hands from all over the world put all the pieces together I think it makes quality control issues very difficult to oversee.  Recalling automobiles for problems is not a total confidence buster because they don't do their work at 30,000 feet in the sky.  I would have felt better about the entire project if Boeing built the entire plane, and assembled it all right here in the US of A.   Now all you can have is a bunch of people from 30 different countries pointing their fingers at each other for their boneheaded incompetence.  Complexity is no excuse.  These planes have been complex since the day W&O winged it at Kitty Hawk.  We've had stellar planes for so many years, but this one is going to be a bust. 
Jul 22, 2013 2:27PM

Catching on fire, to me, doesn't sound like a minor problem


Jul 22, 2013 4:32PM
Jul 24, 2013 12:36AM

There are three type of people in this world. The most valuable people go out and "do". They make things and they accomplish a lot. The second group of people are the people that help the first group to achieve their goals. They're the majority of us. Then there is the third group. They never try to do anything and, they have no accomplishments to point to. But they become critics - failing to realize that an opinion is worthless compared to a real accomplishment. These people become journalists or they become politicians.  The writer of this piece of trash talk journalism is one of those people.

Jul 22, 2013 4:34PM
I won't be flying on any 787's anytime soon that's for sure and I come from a Aerospace background.  Dumb I am not to be a ginny- pig on one of these  while they are still working out the bugs !
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