Fix a 787?

Saturday, 3 August 2013

I’ve still not flown on a Boeing 787 Deamliner – but then A380s had been in service for nearly two years before I made my first flight on the double decker Airbus. I’ve flown them on a number of occasions since, but my first flight wasn’t too successful. Due to a technical problem in LA and then assorted scheduling problems further along the line I eventually arrived in Melbourne – after what should have been a 15 hour flight – 7 hours late.

There’s a lot of airline talk about the Ethiopian Airlines 787 currently sitting at Heathrow Airport after faulty wiring in its Emergency Locator Transmitter caused a fire. It’s been sitting there for 22 days now and the interest is how big a job will it be to fix it and how long will it take. The concern is that fixing the 787’s carbon-fibre fuselage may be much more difficult than patching up a regular aluminium one. Boeing, of course, have an incentive to prove it can be easily repaired. The thought that a brand new aircraft could be written off if a coffee pot overheated – one of the initial suggestions was the fault was in a coffee machine – wouldn’t help airline sales!

Lan Chile grounded 787s 542
▲ When I flew out of Santiago in Chile back in April this year these two grounded Lan Chile 787s were parked off the runway.

Fixing damaged airliners can take a long time, as I suggested in a blog back in 2010. The Emirates A340 which nearly came to grief on take-off from Melbourne, Australia back in 2009 took 257 days to fix. Ten years earlier a Qantas 747 ran off the runway and on to a golf course at Bangkok and took 191 days to fix. There were suggestions that fixing it was more expensive than simply dumping it, but Qantas didn’t want to have to admit that they’d suffered a ‘hull loss.’

Then in 2010 one of the Rolls-Royce engines on another Qantas aircraft, this time an A380, disintegrated (suffered an ‘uncontained failure’ in aircraft engine speak), and caused so much damage it took more than a year, over 500 days in fact, to fix. So if they fix the Ethiopian 787 as quickly as the Qantas 747 we can expect it to be flying passengers again on 19 January next year. Incidentally the Japan Airlines 787 which suffered a battery fire at Boston on 7 January 2013 sat around in Boston long after other 787s were back in the air. There was speculation that the damage to that aircraft had proved more difficult to repair than expected.