ANA grounds 787 fleet, and that’s really OK


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:

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I expressed a similar view a couple days ago, though with a slightly different angle:

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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.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

6 Comments

  1. Even before today’s news I was wondering if recent news had caused some people to be overly sensitive, perceiving issues that aren’t. Statistically, the 787 has undergone so much testing and real usage that to suddenly have numerous issues with nothing in common (type of issue, airline, location, etc) suggests it could be somewhat psychological. A smell of smoke in the cockpit can be quite subjective. Boeing needs to comment ASAP or let others shape the 787’s legacy.

    1. Yes, there has been lots of testing. But most testing isn’t actual real world usage. Now that the plane is “out there” more issues are being discovered. Not a huge deal, so long as the manufacturer understands what the issues are and can address them but Boeing doesn’t seem to be there quite yet.

      As for the suggestion that the issues have nothing in common, I’m not so convinced. Yes, there have been issues with batteries in two different locations on the plane. I’m not sure that means they are two separate problems. Yes, planes have had batteries on board for a while now and not been falling out of the sky with alarming regularity. But they haven’t been using these batteries under this level of load in this sort of environment. Same with the fuel leaks. Different locations and all but the same type of problem.

      There is nothing wrong with spending some time to figure out why the planes are having problems.

  2. According to CNN, the FAA has ordered all 787’s grounded under the battery issue can be fixed. Can’t say I am terribly surprised, but still a blow for Boeing none-the-less.

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