Boeing’s Dreamliner: One Year After Grounding

By Jonathan Spira on 20 January 2014
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ANA's Dreamliner at its Seattle launch flight

ANA’s Dreamliner at its Seattle launch flight

DETROIT AND NEW YORK—One year ago, I was relaxing in an airline lounge at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport waiting to board the launch flight of LOT Polish Airlines’ Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  I arrived in Chicago from Detroit around 1 p.m. and had ample time to explore the new (to me) International Terminal and to find LOT’s lounge.

While the Dreamliner had made news on and off in the preceding month, the day before my flight, Boeing’s high-tech plane was back in the headlines.

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 first Dreamliners were put into domestic service by All Nippon Airways in late 2011 on the Tokyo-Okayama and Tokyo-Hiroshima routes.  Japan Airlines, the second carrier to fly the plane, put it into service in April 2012 on its then new Tokyo-Boston route, and ANA started long-haul Dreamliner service on October 1, 2012 from Seattle.

All was good for the first year of Dreamliner service, but in month 13, some problems started to surface.


The airport was filled with an air of optimism.  LOT’s check-in counters were decorated with Dreamliner posters and LOT’s staff displayed a celebratory mood as they checked passengers in at the very far end of the terminal’s check-in area.

As I sat in the lounge, I received an urgent message from our news desk editor to look at a recently-published story.  On the heels of an emergency landing at a Japanese airport by an ANA Dreamliner, Japan’s two largest airlines, ANA and Japan Airlines, the two largest operators of the type, announced they were grounding their Dreamliner fleets immediately for inspection.

The emergency landing took place after an alarm indicated a problem with batteries used in the plane.  Passengers evacuated the aircraft on emergency slides at Takamatsu Airport after smoke was detected.

In the preceding week, there were a few other Dreamliner incidents including a fire on an empty Japan Airlines Dreamliner in Boston on January 7, a fuel leak on a JAL Dreamliner and a crack in a cockpit windshield on January 8, wiring problems on a United Airlines Dreamliner on the 9th, and additional fuel leaks on two JAL aircraft on January 11 and 13.

On January 11, the FAA announced a new and separate probe that focused on the Dreamliner’s safety and reliability issues.

The review, which looked at the plane’s electrical system and also examined the aircraft’s design and manufacturing processes, was an unusual move for an aircraft that is already in revenue service.  Even more unusual was the news conference announcing it, held on a Friday morning with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta, and Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes in attendance.

Meanwhile, sitting in the lounge and reading the headlines, I was determined to fly to Warsaw on the Dreamliner.

Click here to continue to Page 2An Ultimate Grounding and the Road Back

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