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Has the Dreamliner gone into meltdown?

By Hamish Champ
Posted 18 January 2013

Being someone who is all in favour of cutting-edge technology I was sorry to hear about the troubles affecting Boeing’s ‘Dreamliner’ passenger aircraft.

As many will already be aware, after what seemed like a litany of near-disasters the entire global fleet of Boeing’s 787 has been grounded - the first major grounding since 1979 - while safety checks are carried out on what was being touted as a bold step in the development of fuel-efficient, environmentally- and passenger-friendly aircraft.

One has to be thankful that no-one was injured – or worse, killed – as a result of the various emergencies that have finally led to the removal of the 787 from service, albiet temporarily.

The revolutionary construction of the aircraft, with its near-50% composite make-up, held out the prospect of being able to fly around the world without laying waste the atmosphere around us.

With this in mind, for once the mainstream media embraced – nay lauded – plastic and the good that it can do in a way seldom seen before.

So will the ‘planes problems take the shine off the achievements of composites and lightweight design techniques? Probably not, but they don’t help matters.

Still, I expect once the technical specialists have got to work and solved the various glitches that have bedevilled the Dreamliner it can resume its original flightplan. Hurrah.

Yet its recent travails do pose a question; how come the teccy types didn’t spot the potential for the problems that have arisen from arising?

The 787 has been through some pretty rigourous testing, not to mention the near-three year delay in bringing it to market, as technological hurdles were encountered and eventually overcome.

One aviation expert I heard on the radio recently reckoned that Boeing could survive the fall-out from the 787 since the affected aircraft were among the first to roll off the production line; the company should be able to implement necessary changes for the next batch, he believed.

But hold on a minute: yes, making an aesthetic adjustment to an aircraft – such as the upholstery or the colour scheme – for ‘Mk 2’ is acceptable to most people.

But surely something as fundamental as being able to keep the 'plane and its contents safely into the air and get it back on the ground safely is an no-brainer pre-requisite for the very first ‘plane to emerge from the factory, never mind the 100th or 150th.

Statistically, flying is one of the safest ways of travel. I accept that. I also appreciate that Boeing will do its utmost to make its new baby safe.

That said if ever I have reason to fly on a 787 I’ll feel more comfortable about boarding it once they’ve sorted out the fires, the fuel leaks, the brakes and the battery issues and whatnot…


Comment on this article.

Comments:

Other aircraft have had problems with engines, electrics, fuel lines and other internals without the bodywork being held accountable. These things have not discredited aluminium alloys. Why should it be any different for the composites used in the Dreamliner, when all the failures are in the internals? The one bodywork failure is a cracked windscreen and if that is due to flexing in the composite body then a local redesign is needed. But if Formula 1 is anything to go by, composites provide a lot more safety and protection than sheet metals ever did.

- 18 January 2013 - Clive Maier

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