The infamous shell rollout on 7-8-2007 of the Dreamliner prototype: Commons photo

At a time when airline confidence in the 787 Dreamliners is rising and problems with in-service reliability appear to be falling, a year long investigation by Al Jazeera raises matters that may concern travellers and carriers alike.

This is what the news network says it found, as well as the strong dissenting opinions expressed by the Dreamliner’s maker Boeing.

(Plane Talking didn’t suck up the PR lies during the epic ‘development’ phase of the 787s, burning life long friendships with some people in Boeing Town, but picking up millions upon millions of readers for being ‘difficult’.)

A year long Al Jazeera investigation has uncovered evidence that raises new questions about the safety of Boeing’s flagship “Dreamliner” plane.

Broken Dreams: The Boeing 787, a documentary by the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit, finds workers who have serious concerns about the safety of the “Dreamliner”.

The Boeing 787 faced issues in January last year when two battery failures led to fleets being grounded worldwide.

However, some Boeing employees say they have more issues with the plane than just the battery.

A memo obtained by Al Jazeera shows Boeing altered its quality standards in 2010, at a time when the 787 was already two years delayed.

The source says Boeing, “changed basic engineering principles to meet schedule.”

On seeing the document, Cynthia Cole, a 32-year veteran engineer at the company, and former president of Boeing’s engineers union, SPEEA, says:

“You don’t change your quality process for schedule.  You make quality happen in the schedule.

“They’re short-changing the engineering process to meet a schedule.

“I don’t see how these people who write these things and agree to these things, you know, and the signatures down here, how they sleep at night.  I just don’t get it.  How can you do that? As an engineer I find that reprehensible.”

John Woods, a former manufacturing engineer in Charleston, South Carolina, one of two sites where Boeing assembles the 787, says:

“There’s no doubt there are bad repairs going out the door on the 787 aircraft. I am worried that sooner or later, there’s going to be a structural failure on the fuselage.”

A whistleblower at Boeing South Carolina tells Al Jazeera:

“It’s been eating me alive to know what I know, and have no avenue, no venue to say anything.

“With all the problems reported on the 787, there’s 90 per cent that’s getting swept away…hushed up. It’s an iceberg.”

The whistleblower, using a hidden camera, finds workers discussing drug abuse. The worker also finds that many of those constructing the planes would not fly on the 787:

Cynthia Cole also said:

“I’m not flying on a 787… Because I’ve been kind of avoiding flying on a 787 and seeing this, I would definitely avoid flying on a 787.”

Al Jazeera has also found questions about the battery’s safety persist. Donald Sadoway of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at Boeing’s solution to the original problem and concludes:

“I don’t think it’s a sufficient fix. Even inside that steel box with all of its fortifications, all of the elements are still there for fire.”

Boeing rejects the allegations in the documentary. The company says:

1. It is confident that its battery fix prevents failures.

2. It uses one, FAA-approved quality system for the 787 in Everett and Charleston.

3. Its memo is fully consistent with Boeing’s robust quality assurance system and states it does not signify authorisation to ship parts that don’t meet quality requirements.

4. Boeing drug tests in line with company policy and applicable law.

5. John Woods’ safety claims have “no merit”.

Larry Loftis, Boeing Vice President and General Manager of the 787 Program, says:

“I’m extremely confident in the quality of the workforce in Boeing South Carolina… The number one focus that we have at Boeing is ensuring the continued safe airworthiness of an airplane, the integrity of the airplane and the quality of the airplane going out.”

Al Jazeera’s Will Jordan, whose documentary will air on September 10th, says:

“After the “Dreamliner” was grounded, we began to ask the question: do the problems on the Boeing 787 go beyond the battery? This film tackles that question, but it also tells a story of the transformation of an American industrial giant. As Boeing moved into the modern era of manufacturing, it changed the way it did business. This documentary uncovers some of the consequences.”

Broken Dreams: The Boeing 787 will be available from Wednesday 10th September online at AlJazeera.com/Boeing787 and airs on Al Jazeera English at (various) times.

Plane Talking’s take on the 787 today is that Boeing lost the plot very seriously at the outset of the program, which was one in which media mytholygizing papered over what was a massive con job at to the state of the program and the capability of the company to certify the jet in the claimed times and by stated early deadlines.

The certification of the program was flawed. Read the NTSB papers in relation to the certification process at the FAA following on the battery combustion incidents last year. This was a shabby and deficient process and unworthy of the US safety regulator in some respects.

Boeing was changed by the risk and reward sharing structure of the 787 program much more so than it was with previous programs in which engine and component suppliers took on board important parts of projects. A lack of central control and effective vision variously impeded and harmed the 787 and the 747-8 programs.

Not to mention the appalling optics of a media management program that was a constant and grating embarrassment.

While the 747-8 program has no relevance to passenger airliners now or in the future (it’s major problem being the runaway success of the 777 and forcoming 777-X lines) air transport needs the 787s to deliver on their potential to be reliable more fuel efficient airliners.

In that sense, the 787 is a critical step toward the imperative of a carbon neutral future for air transport.  Fuel efficiency is one thing, and the current results are highly encouraging for the 787s. But replacing that fuel with interim non-fossil carbon releasing bio fuels, and beyond that, designer algal fuels, is the next step along a path that Boeing and its Airbus rival must travel if they are to survive.

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