Recent news on the need for Air India to update the software on its fleet of 787s caught our attention. The software update announcement is unusual. There have been numerous issues with the 787, but software has not been one that has attracted a lot of attention. There was a report in the WSJ earlier this year about United Airlines updating software on its 787s after installing the battery fixes. The update was apparently focused on “problems flowed from the types of software bugs”.
In mid-November Aviation Week reported that Boeing was looking at a 787 software update. This update appears to be focused on “simplifying” the systems that have been sending warnings that were “nuisance messages”. This was followed up with another story post the Dubai air show covering roughly the same issues.
Air India ordered 27 787-8s in December 2005 and deliveries started in September 2012. As of today, Air India has taken delivery of ten of these aircraft. Air India was the fifth airline to put the 787 into service. The story with Air India attracts special attention because the software update was discussed in India’s parliament. Air India recently made news when an unsecured panel fell off one of its 787s on landing.
Nothing in the news about Air India’s 787s draws attention to warrant a fleet wide software update. After all, Air India only has 10% of the global 787 fleet in operation. 34% of the 787 fleet is based in Japan and there have been no software updates mentioned for that fleet. When the 787 experienced its battery issues it was with the Japanese carriers, who are by far the most active users of the 787. Were a software update needed, it would be the Japanese who would be at the head of the line. But here we have Air India. The software update will take each 787 out of service for ten days.
Air India has been a vocal 787 customer when things went wrong. It was quick to go public with its demand for compensation when the 787s were grounded after the battery incidents. If the software issues were somehow related to a Boeing problem, we would expect the vocal public complaints to be forthcoming. But nothing like that is going on. Air India is not in good financial shape and would grab at any opportunity to secure compensation from Boeing.
Which brings us back to the question: What is different about Air India’s 787s than others in the industry?