The operational troubles with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner continue to grow. ANA reported yet another serious incident early Wednesday in Japan including an emergency landing on a domestic flight. The aircraft in question reported a warning with the battery system and pilots noted smoke in the cockpit. As a result of this latest incident – along with the multiple other recent issues with the type – ANA is grounding their fleet of 17 Dreamliners. JAL will be grounding their fleet of Dreamliners as well. It is not clear yet if other operators of the type will take similar actions.
These moves represent a tremendous blow to the type and its reputation amongst passengers and airlines. Other aircraft have had significant "teething issues" in their launch cycles as well; the issues with the 787 are not particularly unique in that regard. The A380 suffered a grounding early in its operation cycle, too. They had engine troubles and didn’t fly for a while at various times. And these days the A380 is flying just fine, at least it appears that way. And many types prior to the latest few have been in trouble near their launch, too. It isn’t really worth the time to go through all the other stories about troubles with new planes; they are there and they are real.
At the same time, however, it is worth considering the impact the news is having even on the most seasoned of travelers. Looking at the conversations online these days it seems that many passengers are starting to get cold feet. Thoughts like this are coming out more and more often:
I expressed a similar view a couple days ago, though with a slightly different angle:
At the core of the situation is the uncertainty. I know that there is a chance things won’t end safely when I get on the subway, get in a a cab or hop in the back of a jam-packed pickup truck to hurtle down the side of a hill at improbable speeds around crazy curves on a hill in Burma. And there is a chance I won’t land safely every single time I get on a plane. When I got on the inaugural 747-8i flight I was nervous. I was excited and happy and arguably giddy, but I was also nervous. Life involves taking risks, at least if you plan to live it. And I do take risks. But I generally like to know that at least someone has figured out roughly what the risks actually are. And that is pretty hard to be convinced of right now.
Boeing doesn’t really seem to have details on why they think these problems are surfacing now. Neither do any of the regulatory or investigating bodies. And that’s OK. Really. It is OK that there are problems with the plane. But that doesn’t mean it is OK (nor necessary) to continue using them to transport passengers and cargo. It has to be OK to take a break and figure out what is broken and how to fix it. Quite frankly, there is no need to continue taking the risk. There is no upside to such bravado.
The 787 will fly again. It will fly for a long, long time and millions of passengers will ultimately benefit from the many technologies it is introducing to the market. But it also is important that the operators understand how the plane is working and, where it is not working, why it is not working and how to fix it. There’s no prize for flying the most passengers when you’re not really sure why things aren’t working correctly on the plane.