Logistics

Grounded Boeing Dreamliner hopes to fly into clear skies soon

Ashwini Phadnis Nivedita Ganguly | Updated on March 12, 2018

CAUGHT IN A STORM





It certainly was not the way the US-based Boeing, the manufacturer of the Dreamliner Boeing-787 aircraft, wanted publicity. Neither did Air India, the only Indian airline flying the newest generation of civilian aircraft. For Boeing the Dreamliner is its answer to rival Airbus’s A-380, the largest civilian aircraft operating in the world. And for Air India, the induction of six Boeing- 787s in its fleet last year is part of its turnaround strategy and eventual survival.

But that is what happened last week when a series of incidents saw 50 of the Boeing-787 aircraft being grounded globally because of safety reasons. The two Japanese carriers — All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines — were the first to ground their entire fleet on Wednesday. The move literally led to a Tsunami. Within hours the US aviation watchdog the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an airworthiness directive to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and required all operators to temporarily cease operations.

Batter(y)ed?

Following the FAA’s directive, the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) also “advised” Air India to ground its entire fleet of six Boeing-787 aircraft.

The latest problem that led to the grounding of the 787 fleet involved a lithium ion battery. “The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two Model 787 airplanes. The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment,” FAA said in a statement.

While all these groundings were extensively covered by the media across the globe, aviation analysts are not too perturbed by what happened on board the Boeing-787 or the aircraft being grounded.

“The grounding of the B-787 will be short-term. Boeing has been in the business of aircraft manufacturing for a very long time. They will come out with a solution in two to three weeks time,” said Sharan Lillaney, aviation analyst, Angel Broking. The issue with the Dreamliner was faced by just a couple of airlines the world over, which had the batteries manufactured in Japan, he added.

Others cite what happened to the Airbus A-380, an aircraft which can carry over 500 passengers on a single flight, when it was first launched commercially in early 2000. That aircraft too faced some teething problems and, in fact, India, which does not allow international airlines to operate regular A-380 flights in the country, had to allow the aircraft to make emergency landings more than once at Hyderabad airport. The only difference was that unlike the Dreamliner, the A-380 fleet was not grounded.

Frequent fliers say there are teething problems with just about every new aircraft. “The 787 was a big technological leap for Boeing and they will be working to rectify it soon,” said Peeyush Naidu, aviation analyst, Deloitte.

Why all the noise?

When the two aircraft manufacturers are not squabbling with each other, both admit that any new aircraft entering service is likely to face problems. Introducing a new aircraft is very similar to introducing a new car or any other product in the market. Though all manufacturers try and come up with a foolproof product, sometimes problems do crop up. And this is true even of the new generation aircraft. But this does not mean that the aircraft manufacturers don’t try to come up with a near-perfect product before it is put in service. Hence, the global induction of the Boeing-787 was delayed by about three years as the manufacture and vendors worked to iron out problems that kept coming up before certification for flight was possible. There was a similar delay in the global induction of the Airbus A-380.

“We want to see the Boeing 787 back in the air and wish our colleagues in Boeing a fast recovery to flight. Both Airbus and Boeing have an excellent safety record and safety is our number one priority in the industry,” said Kiran Rao, Executive Vice-President, Marketing, Airbus.

Analysts maintain that though a short-term solution will be found to rectify the problem with the batteries and the Boeing-787 will take to the skies again soon, finding a permanent solution to the problem may take months.

However, there is good news for Air India in particular as analysts say that the grounding of its newest aircraft will not have any adverse impact on its image. “Air India will manage the crisis without any major losses in sales,” Lillaney says as most travellers are unaware of what model of plane they are flying on. “Also, when you book a flight ticket, you do not know which type of aircraft you will be taking. So, public perception about Air India will not be affected,” he added.

> ashwini.phadnis@thehindu.co.in

> nivedita.ganguly@thehindu.co.in

Published on January 20, 2013

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