Putting Dreamliner back up in the sky: More than an act of faith

Photo: Elias Asmore/Associated Press

Photo: Elias Asmore/Associated Press

Ethiopian Airlines became the first airline to put the Dreamliner B787 jet back up in the sky following a formal “air worthiness” directive by US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow resumption of commercial operations.

The Dreamliner was grounded in January over concerns of fire risks resulting from possible malfunctioning of the jet’s lithium-ion batteries. While the actual cause of the sparks experienced by Japan Airlines would never be known, Boeing has refitted the model with new batteries approved by FAA. The new batteries, encased in stainless steel boxes with a ventilation pipe that goes directly to the outside of the plane, run at a much cooler temperature.

The Ethiopian flight took off from Addis Ababa and landed safely in Nairobi, Kenya some two hours later – paving the way for the other operators of the global fleet of 50 aircraft to follow suit. Boeing expects to complete repairs of the entire fleet by May. All Nippon Airways (ANA) which has the largest number of 17 Dreamliners said it would commence retraining of its pilots to resume flying the aircraft in June.

The task at hand now is to convince the travelling public that the revamped B787 is safe for flying. ANA plans to reintroduce the jet for freight only before using it to carry passengers. The Ethiopian flight was full of Boeing executives in an act of faith. All this may in the end prove to be academic since not many people know about the aircraft make and model that they have booked on or make it a necessary condition of their flying. The airline brand (its safety record implicit) and other factors such as schedules and costs are likely to matter more.

Courtesy Reuters

Courtesy Reuters

All said, ANA is probably more concerned about the perception than other airlines. If it is of any comfort, closest rival JAL also operates the B787. But that would be taking a diffident stand for all the hours that Boeing has put in to rectify the problem and the assurance it has given of its improved design. Surely, it must be more than an act of faith.

Happily for Boeing, the scare over, it may again sell on how much more fuel efficient the lightweight Dreamliner is compared with other similar jets. The company reported a 20-per-cent jump in net income to US$1.1 billion for the first three months of the year – in spite of the Dreamliner grounding.


About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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