With a precautionary landing by a United 787 and the issuance of an Airworthiness Directive over the last two days, the mainstream media are suggesting more potential problems for Boeing with the 787 program. That simply isn’t the case.
The AD that was issued is related to mis-assembled components in the fuel line, which the FAA indicated “could result in fuel leaks, which could lead to fuel exhaustion, engine power loss or shutdown, or leaks on hot engine parts that could lead to a fire.” The AD calls for inspections of the fuel system. Boeing had already discovered the problem, and had addressed the problem on November 11 through a service bulletin, after All Nippon Airways discovered a problem with one of its aircraft on October 23rd. The AD calls for a mandatory inspection for correctly installed lock wires on engine fuel line couplings to verify proper assembly, and checks have been completed on more than half the fleet. New aircraft from the factory have already been corrected.
The United precautionary landing on Tuesday resulted from the failure of one of six power generators aboard the aircraft, after the pilot received a warning message. The aircraft operated normally using the five remaining power generators. The level of redundancy in the aircraft design indicates that this should not be a safety issue, but United is being cautious in its initial 787 operations, erring on the side of safety as it shakes-out its fleet domestically before entering long-haul operations.
The Bottom Line: Virtually every commercial aircraft entering service has teething problems, which is why launch customers receive discounts, as they will see the brunt of any initial problems and work closely with the aircraft manufacturer. These issues are representative of the type of issues that always develop with a new aircraft, but with the program delays, some are attempting to “pile on” with additional criticism of Boeing. The 787 is exceeding expectations, operating well, and Boeing is a step ahead of the regulators in informing them about and quickly solving potential problems. It is turning out to be a late, but great, airplane.
Later this month, another milestone will occur on the 13th of December when Qatar Airways introduces the 787 to Heathrow with a Doha non-stop. With the 787-9 progressing and a decision on the 787-10 coming soon, the outlook for the 787 program is quite positive.