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Dreamliner 787 safety checks are ‘no big deal’ so far

Dreamliner emergency landing and compulsory inspections for fuel leaks are two separate but ‘ho hum’ hiccups typical of the early operations of a new type of airliner.

There is, as some media reports have said, nothing unusual about a new type of airliner being the subject of safety checks reinforced by an airworthiness directive in the first year or so of commercial service, which is the case this week with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

However the reports, spurred on by the emergency landing of a United Airlines 787 only days after it had entered service have often blurred separate issues. The FAA has issued the AD over the risk of incorrectly installed fuel line connectors that could lead to a fire, after the fault had been discovered during an inspection by All Nippon Airways of one of the jets.

The United incident has been described as a concern the pilots had with indications of a possible electrical problem in the rear underfloor section of the jet, but after landing no sign of a fire or other damage was found.

The two unrelated issues are dealt with in this Reuter’s story, which appears to have been too complicated for some newspapers or sites.

It is now more than a year since the high composite or reinforced plastic Dreamliner began service, although deliveries have been slowed by remedial work that Boeing has been performing on the early examples of the jet where they had been substantially assembled before the need to make various modifications have become apparent during the flight testing and certification process.

Most early reports about the 787 in service have been less than enthusiastic from a passenger perspective, with the spacious cabins that featured in Boeing presentations replaced by the reality of its being just another jet stuffed full of too many tiny seats by airliners responding to fierce price cutting and the high cost of fuel.

The first scheduled 787 service in Australia is now expected to be flown by Qatar Airways between Perth and Doha late this month, with China Southern also operating early build 787-8s between Guangzhou and Sydney or Melbourne early next year, well before Jetstar begins flying them with a 313 seat high density configuration late in the year on routes yet to be confirmed.

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  • 1
    NeoTheFatCat
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    As always, the media response to any “incident” involving a passenger aircraft is to declare it an “emergency”. Add in some vox pops from uninformed passengers (eg. slightest noise becomes an “explosion”) and you have a pretty good filler for the evening news.

    As usual these days, the risk assessment process for the media and the average citizen ends at the consequence stage – no assessment of likelihood or mitigation strategies.

  • 2
    LongTimeObserver
    Posted December 7, 2012 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    Has to make you wonder, though, about the grant, “out of the box” of ETOPS 305 minutes approval…

  • 3
    LongTimeObserver
    Posted December 7, 2012 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    …or even more speculative, ETOPS 330

  • 4
    comet
    Posted December 8, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    The 787 is still a highly experimental aircraft.

    The properties of composite plastic airframes were not fully known during the design phase. Boeing is learning on the run, which in my opinion makes it a less safe aircraft than a conventional aluminium-framed aircraft.

    The other thing is that composite materials are in their infancy, and I would describe them as being premature. Ultimately, it looks like airframers will switch to a material called graphene, which has superior properties than any plastic composites in use today. Graphene is tough, incredibly lightweight, conducts electricity, and more recently has been made flexible. The plastics that Boeing used (and also Airbus with the A350) were too heavy, and non-conductive.

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