The Dreamliner’s Real Problem: Outsourcing or Management Naïveté?

By Jonathan Spira on 19 February 2013
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The Dreamliner on tour at DFW

The Dreamliner on tour at DFW

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner was expected to be a game-changing aircraft, and it may very well turn out to be one.  It was the first passenger plane made almost entirely of composites rather than aluminum. It was designed to consume 20% less fuel than the equivalent Boeing 767, an achievement that, in an age of increasing fuel costs, made it a very strategic plane for an airline industry that is currently in turmoil.

Unfortunately, as the world found out on January 16, things didn’t quite work out as planned.   While the Dreamliner did arrive three years later than scheduled, its launch was flawless, as was its first year of operation.  Only in year two did problems start to surface – serious ones at that – including fuel leaks, smoke in the cabin, and fires.

After one Dreamliner suffered an onboard electrical fire while parked at Boston’s Logan Airport and another had to make an emergency landing after smoke was detected in the cabin, the two major operators of the Dreamliner, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, grounded their fleets “for inspection” on January 15.  The next day, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration grounded 787s operated by U.S. airlines, an order that impacted the type’s sole operator, United.  A domino effect was felt around the world as airlines and regulators followed suit. (Indeed, I was sitting at Chicago-O’Hare waiting to board LOT Polish Airlines’ inaugural Dreamliner flight from Chicago to Warsaw and that flight was cancelled by LOT – since it was not under FAA control – a mere two hours before departure.  I should also add that I’ve flown on the Dreamliner multiple times without incident, including on the ANA inaugural flight from Seattle to Narita.)

At first, the problems were described by Boeing executives and officials at the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board as being teething problems, common to new planes.  Indeed, at a joint press conference in Washington, D.C. on January 11, when the FAA and NTSB announced a review of the Dreamliner’s safety and reliability, comments such as “We are confident about the safety of this aircraft” by the FAA’s Michael Huerta were common. The problems, the decision to ground the fleet, and the ongoing probes have received substantial press coverage and everyone seemed to have an opinion as to the root cause of the problem or problems.  Our Dreamliner poll sought to determine what the majority of frequent travelers thought to be the cause at fault in the case of the new airplane’s grounding

The Dreamliner poll was conducted in conjunction with FlyerTalk, the world’s largest online travel community.

Click here to continue to Page 2The Pendulum Swung Too Far

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