After a fourteen month-long investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration has concluded the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is "soundly designed and safe to fly," yet recommended changes to Boeing's manufacturing process and oversight.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said:
"After the first Boeing 787 battery incident last year, I called for a comprehensive review of the entire design, manufacture and assembly process for the aircraft as well as a critical look at our own oversight. The review team identified some problems with the manufacturing process and the way we oversee it, and we are moving quickly to address those problems."
The review was instated in January 2013 after a battery fire on a Japan Airlines 787 at Boston's Logan Airport. As a result of the fire, all fifty Dreamliners in the global fleet at the time were grounded for three months. During the grounding, the lithium ion batteries were redesigned to insulate each cell and allow venting should a cell overheat.
787 lithium ion battery damaged by fire
After Dreamliners were allowed to return to the skies, they have continued to have a host of other isolated problems including hydraulic issues, faulty wiring, and fuel tank leaks. NPR reports that airlines including Air India and Norwegian Air are seeking compensation from Boeing for service problems and lost revenue due to planes being out of service. Earlier this month, Boeing announced that hairline cracks had been discovered in the wings of up to forty 787s currently in production, and warned that deliveries of new aircraft may be delayed. Boeing plans to deliver 110 Dreamliners this year.
787s being assembled at the Boeing assembly plant in Everett, Washington
The review also looked at what's called the 787s dispatch reliability, which is a ratio of the number of cancellations per 1,000 flights. It was found that the 787 dispatch reliability was similar to that of the Boeing 777 early in its service, which began in the mid 1990s. The 777 is now considered to be one of the safest and most reliable planes in the sky.
Any of us who have ever bought into a new technology knows that the first version of the product is never the best version. We call it the "early adopter fee." In the airline industry, manufacturers call it "teething pains." But for aircraft that haul a couple hundred people around the world, these pains are not an option for airlines depending on its potential income, and especially for the passengers depending on its comfort and safety.
Now ten years since the 787 program began development, Boeing has begun production on the next Dreamliner model, a stretched version called the 787-9. Air New Zealand will be the first airline to receive it. Boeing also has its hands full as it works on the next generations of the 737 line, the 737MAX, as well as the next 777 product, the 777X.
Top image: 787 Dreamliner at DFW Airport by Paul Thompson
Other Images via Getty