Japanese Boeing 787 Airplanes Have Issues

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner JA801A OKJ.jpg

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner (JA801A).

In the general scheme of things, one problem is unlucky; two problems is an unlucky coincidence; and three problems – hey… what’s going on?!

Boeing Company‘s spectacular 787 Dreamliner aircraft seem to be suffering from a series of problems lately. And, perhaps, then some.

It’s not just three separate aircraft each having its own separate issue, it’s the fact that the issues for each plane happened three days in a row.

And… all of them seem to be affecting aircraft belonging to Japanese airlines. At least this time.

So… what is going on?

  1. On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, All Nippon Airways (ANA) had to cancel a 787 Dreamliner flight between Yamaguchi-ken and Tokyo after brake problems were discovered.
  2. On Tuesday, January 8, 2013, a Japan Airlines (JAL) 787 flight going from Logan International Airport in Boston, USA to Tokyo was canceled after a fuel leak was discovered. Only 40 gallons spilled. After firefighters were called in as a precaution and the passengers asked to disembark, the same airplane did take off four hours later.
  3. On Monday, January 7, 2013, another JAL 787 Dreamliner – again in Boston to Tokyo – had its flight canceled after an electrical fire! Apparently a lithium-ion battery in the auxiliary power unit caught fire causing significant damage in an area of about 20-inches in diameter. The unit was operating when the fire was discovered.

Wow, $207 million just doesn’t buy what it used to anymore, does it?

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is first passenger jet built mainly from lightweight carbon-plastic materials in an effort to save fuel.

Some people are saying these issues are simple ‘birthing’ issues for a new plane. Hey, I understand that… but if the pregnant woman is concerned about her little passenger, shouldn’t she run through a battery of tests first before birth? You know… to make sure the baby doesn’t catch on fire as it exits the womb?

Boeing, headquartered in Chicago, says that Japan is the largest customer for the 787 Dreamliner with JAL and ANA flying 24 of the 49 new planes that were delivered at the end of December 2012.

Of course… while these are new aircraft for JAL and ANA, the 787 Dreamliner actually entered commercial service with other airlines back in November of 2011 – about three years behind schedule – and has now sold 848 of the aircraft.

JAL operates seven 787 Dreamliners, with orders in for an additional 38. According to JAL spokesperson Kidosaki Kazunori (surname first) – there are no plans to alter its purchase order.

The same holds true from ANA spokesperson Uchiyama Etsuya (surname first). ANA owns 17 Dreamliners, currently, with another 49 on the way.

The attitude of Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be – a song sung by Doris Day) continues:

  • Air India, (now in possession of six of its 27 Dreamliner aircraft) says it has precautionary measures in place, and there have been no problems. Air India spokesperson G. Prasada Rao says: “It’s a new plane, and some minor glitches do happen. It’s not a cause of concern.”
  • Hainan Airlines in China, has 10 aircraft on order. An executive with the company, speaking on the condition of anonymity owing to the fact that he had no authorization to speak, says: “New airplanes more or less will need adjustments, and currently we have no plans to swap or cancel orders.”
  • Air China with an order for 15 planes agrees there is no need to alter its purchases.
  • Qatar Airways, currently flies five 787 Dreamliner planes and says it has not had any technical issues (whatever that means). Although once very critical of the Boeing delivery delays and technical problems during the plane’s development, chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker seems unconcerned about the latest issues with the Japanese aircraft. “It doesn’t mean we are going to cancel our orders. It’s a revolutionary airplane.”
  • other carriers flying the 787 Dreamliner are: Ethiopian Airlines, LAN Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines and United Airlines.

Now… to Boeing’s credit, the very well respected aircraft manufacturer is, of course, fully cooperating with the investigation regarding the battery fire. It says that it’s still very early in the investigation.

“However, nothing we’ve seen in this case indicates a relationship to any previous 787 power system events, which involved power panel faults elsewhere in the aft electrical equipment bay (where the fire occurred),” Boeing said in a statement.

Now… I know what Boeing is saying. It’s just a lousy string of bad luck, as everyone knows that trouble or disaster always come in sets of three. That we know of.

But what concerns me about the wording of the Boeing statement is they mentioned other “previous 787 power system events”… and that there were other “power panel faults elsewhere”. Elsewhere, but apparently also in the aft electrical equipment bay, where the most recent fire occurred.

Other power panel faults? Other faults – also in the same general area?

Hmm. So there’s an issue within the aft electrical equipment bay. And Boeing while concerned, is not panicking (outwardly).

No response on what Boeing thinks caused the brake problem or the fuel leak.

However… the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) last month (LAST MONTH!) ordered all 787 aircraft to be inspected after fuel leaks were found on two aircraft. Those fuel leaks were due to incorrectly assembled fuel line couplings that could result in power loss or an engine fire.

So… the plane that suffered a fuel leak two days ago… was it inspected? It should have been done immediately. And if it was inspected, why is there a leak one month later? Just how thorough are these inspections? Surely these aircraft inspections are better than the ones done by Japanese highway crews and their tunnels?!

I, personally love this quote from Michel Merluzeau, managing partner at defense and aerospace consulting firm G2 Solutions: “I think we’re dealing here with a situation where this aircraft is over-scrutinized for a number of reasons, including the birth difficulties.”

(Wait… here comes the interesting part.)

Merluzeau continues: “Don’t get me wrong. A battery fire is a very, very serious event. Especially a lithium-ion battery. And we don’t know what the problem is. But the 787s is still a very safe aircraft to fly.”

So… the aircraft has a serious problem via battery fire – especially the volatile lithium-ion battery… and no one is aware what is causing it to catch fire… but it’s still safe to fly.

Got it. Fire is apparently not a deterrent when flying. Well… if it’s not, it could be – especially if you are leaking fuel!

Stop the plane! I want to get off! Oh crap… what’s wrong with the brakes… tell me I’m dreaming…

Somewhere pushing tin (or, apparently lightweight carbon plastic),
Andrew Joseph

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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