Boeing 787 impressions

Earlier this month our publisher had his first trip on a Boeing 787 – from Oslo Gardemoen to Gatwick, care of Norwegian. Was he impressed?

Yes, it did have a “new-car” smell.

In a way, impressively unimpressive – anyone not interested in planes, even frequent flyers, might not notice the difference.

The much heralded LED mood lighting struck me as gimmicky.

You only notice how big the windows are when you start looking out of them. The innovative window-dimmers (the plane doesn’t have blinds) worked well eventually, but required a rather strong finger to press the button hard enough to get any response.

Much has been made about the 787’s cabin pressure being set to 6,000 feet, rather than the usual 7,500–8,000 feet. I must say I didn’t notice the difference. In fact, my ears started popping the moment we left the cruise at 43,000 feet, as usual.

The clincher is the noise level – this is the thing that most impressed me. I was sitting in economy just behind the wing and it was noticeably quieter than any other plane I’ve ever been on, at all segments of the flight.

So, yes, sort of.

 

787s are go but…

It looks as if the Boeing 787 is likely to go back into service very shortly which is good news for all concerned. Boeing and the Japanese manufacturers of the over-heating battery seem to have produced a very solid solution which will mean the problem will not happen again.

The Boeing 787 has had a very turbulent history. Deliveries were badly delayed as the complicated world-wide supply chain set up by Boeing failed to deliver all the parts on schedule. Ironically, the world-wide supply chain is one of the reasons the aircraft has achieved such high sales. By giving manufacturers around the world contracts to build valuable parts, Boeing’s salesmen were able to push the aircraft to airlines in those countries as being “locally-made”. The batteries that caused the problem were made in Japan – it is not a coincidence that the biggest operators of 787s at the moment are two Japanese airlines, JAL and ANA.

Actually, even without this “local” advantage, the 787 was always likely to be a success. It fills a unique and very valuable area in an airline’s fleet and allows them to operate long routes, with limited passenger demand, very economically.

The various troubles have cost Boeing hundreds of millions but there is little doubt that in a few years time, they will be counting the profits and the 787 will be seen as one of their most successful products.

There is just one lingering doubt. After intensive work over the last few weeks, engineers and safety regulators have come up with a plan to ensure that any future over-heating will not be an issue. However, the actual cause of the original over-heating in the batteries has not been found. That should not be an issue because, if the same thing happens again, the batteries will not react in the same way so all will be will.

I am no engineer so cannot possibly comment but, whilst robust sticking-tape is good, surely it would still be nice to know the root-cause.

 

Dreamliner problems grow exponentially

The grounding of all Boeing 787′s a few weeks ago did not cause much comment in the general press. There are only just over fifty of these new aircraft in service and the few airlines that have them only have a handful in service so most have been able to re-schedule their services using their existing fleet. Only the two Japanese airlines, JAL and ANA have had any real problems and they seem to be coping quite well.

When the FAA announced the grounding, it was assumed it would be just for a few days or weeks whilst the batteries were tested. Unfortunately, Boeing, the Japanese manufacturers of the battery and the various safety authorities do not seem any nearer to finding out what has gone wrong. Rumours are now spreading that the grounding could continue for several more weeks or months.

Boeing’s delivery schedule plans to ratchet up delivery of the new aircraft to ten a month by the end of the year. Officially, the schedule has not changed – though obviously there are no current deliveries since the aircraft cannot fly. A delay of a few weeks would not cause a problem but the longer this goes on, the more serious the consequences could become.

Airlines who currently have the 787 should not have too much trouble substituting other aircraft from their fleet in the slack Winter season. However, from May onwards, the Summer schedules will make it much harder to do this. The Summer schedules will have been drawn up on the basis of the new aircraft being fully operational. Some airlines will already have signed contracts to sell, or return old aircraft to leasing companies. Other airlines will, in turn, be counting on these aircraft entering their fleets.

In Britain, both Thomson and British Airways are expecting 787′s in the Spring and early Summer. Thomson have already allocated their two 787′s and sold the seats. Maybe they can just continue using the 767′s they currently have but they were supposed to be leaving the fleet (with one departing as each new 787 arrives) and, presumably, another airline is expecting the 767′s. Qatar have been waiting for their 787′s anxiously and several new routes (which have already been sold) depend on the aircraft being in the fleet. Norwegian claim their new longhaul budget routes due to start in the Spring will not be hit because they have contingency plans to lease another aircraft – but there are very limited replacement aircraft available for lease and they will be expensive. And so it goes on.

The 787 grounding is far from a disaster yet. Even if it continues for the rest of the year, it will not cause chaos, but, the longer it goes on, the more trouble it will cause and it could be a very annoying summer for some airlines.

Boeing Dreamliner's first flight today

Two years behind schedule, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is due to fly for the first time today. There was a lot of carping from the Seattle crowd when the Airbus 380 was similarly delayed nearly four years ago. However, the two-decker A380 was so obviously a quantum leap ahead of what was already flying, the delay seemed excusable to many of the public-at-large interested in these things.

This isn’t quite the case with the Boeing 787, which to the uneducated eye looks distinctly unrevolutionary, being similar in size and layout to a B767. However, don’t be fooled – Boeing’s latest offering is perhaps even more of a leap ahead than Airbus’.  Here’s one humdrum little fact gleaned from Boeing’s website to drive this home – the construction of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet involves drilling one million holes, while the making of a Boeing 787 requires drilling fewer than 10,000. Which really is revolutionary when you think about it.