Salvaging the dream

Updated - November 28, 2021 09:40 pm IST

Published - January 18, 2013 12:49 am IST

It was only after the U.S. aviation regulator ordered the grounding of all Boeing 787 Dreamliners that India reacted to the spate of safety issues that has arisen about the aircraft in recent weeks. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has now grounded Air India’s six 787s till further orders, depending on Boeing’s probe and its report. Two Japanese airlines — ANA and JAL — which own the largest fleet of about 50 Dreamliners now in operation worldwide, were the first to ground their entire fleet of 787s in the wake of a series of incidents involving the plane. Such safety issues are not new to either Boeing or any other manufacturer, especially during a new aircraft’s initial phase of operation. The 777 also went through many teething problems before establishing itself as a reliable long-range option. Boeing began work on the 787 in 2003 and the first commercial deliveries took place in 2011. Even in the early tests and trials, a range of problems was noticed and tackled. Some of them have now recurred and a few other issues have cropped up too. All these need to be addressed and the airlines as well as passengers assured of the airplane’s complete safety in the air.

The nature or problems encountered in recent days and weeks relate to the first time use of lithium-ion batteries, fuel and oil leaks, engine trouble, electronics, and in one incident, cracks in the cabin windscreen, as also a crack on a wing. Boeing used carbon-fiber composites in the making of the aircraft, as they were lighter and stronger than aluminum. Though they may make the aircraft fuel efficient, structural questions have to be handled. Fuel leaks and the batteries perhaps cause the most concern for the manufacturer, airlines and the passengers. The rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are touted as major power and fuel savers, but the problem is the liquid inside them is flammable. Taken together with the problem of fuel leaks, this makes the batteries a major safety issue. There is so much at stake for Boeing because it has orders for another 800 of these signature planes, built to carry between 210 and 296 passengers. The company may also have to compensate its customers for the grounding of these planes till they are certified fully fit by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The airlines which ordered the long-haul, wide-bodied aircraft did so because of the promised fuel efficiency, and the package that the manufacturer offered as an incentive. Though the listed price of a 787 is about $206 million, early buyers got it at perhaps half that price. But safety and security factors outweigh all other considerations and these must be guaranteed.

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