Boeing’s Dreamliner: What Went Wrong and the Road Back
The Federal Aviation Administration’s decision on Friday to allow Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner to return to service with a package of approved modifications was somewhat anti-climatic compared to the events that led to the high-tech airplane’s grounding.
First, let’s take a look at the revolutionary new aircraft.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a long-range, widebody, twin-engine jet that can carry between 210 to 290 passengers, depending on the airline’s particular configuration. It is the world’s first airliner to use composite materials for most of its construction, which makes it lighter and far more resistant to corrosion than earlier jets.
In size and capacity, the Dreamliner is similar to the Boeing 767, but it consumes 20% less fuel. From a visual standpoint, the aircraft’s distinguishing features include a four-panel windshield and noise-reducing chevrons on its engine cowlings.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has wings and a fuselage made from composite material, not aluminum. It is designed to use five times more electricity than other similarly-sized aircraft in order to lower fuel usage (this is where the high-tech – and somewhat problematic – lithium-ion batteries came in). Additionally, since some of the technologies used in the Dreamliner were new and not covered by existing FAA regulations, the plane received its certification with numerous “special conditions.” Perhaps complicating matters somewhat, Boeing used an unusually high number of subcontractors to build the 787, a move that caused significant delays at the start of the manufacturing process.
The first Dreamliners were put into domestic service by ANA on November 1, 2011. (There were several special flights at the end of October, prior to starting regular service.) The first regularly scheduled flight was on the Tokyo-Okayama route, and Tokyo-Hiroshima started later the same day. While ANA didn’t put the Dreamliner into long-haul service until October 1, 2012, Japan Airlines, the second airline to fly the Dreamliner, received its first two aircraft in March 2012 and put them into service on its new Tokyo-Boston Route in late April.
All was good for the first year of Dreamliner service, but in month 13, some problems started to surface.