Boeing 787: From Dreamliner to Nightmare
Some frequent fliers say they aren’t worried about safety aboard Boeing’s problem-plagued 787 aircraft, while many less-seasoned travelers are often unaware of what model of plane they’re flying on.
That makes it anyone’s guess whether Boeing Co., or the airlines that use its planes, will pay a price for concerns surrounding the 787. The planes were grounded worldwide last Thursday after a battery fire on one, and an emergency landing on another after pilots smelled something burning.
"I’m as excited today to get on a 787 as I was a year ago," says Edward Pizzarello, a travel blogger who has logged four flights on the 787, which Boeing calls the Dreamliner. "Boeing will fix this, and I’ll be flying on this plane for many years."
Lee Simonetta, a research engineer at Georgia Tech, said he too would hop on the Dreamliner again. He was among the aviation fanatics aboard the plane’s first trip with paying customers, an All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong in October 2011. It was a time to marvel at a jet made of composite materials that make it lighter and far more fuel-efficient, and at its use of electrical systems to do just about everything.
That was before a series of incidents including fuel leaks, cracked windshields and overheating batteries gained worldwide attention. Photos of charred battery boxes from the planes popped up all over the Internet. Safety officials around the world took a second look at the planes, and the Federal Aviation Administration grounded 787s in this country - United Airlines is the only U.S. carrier to fly them, but several foreign airlines use them on flights to and from the U.S.
Boeing officials and some frequent fliers say there are hiccups with just about every new plane, and the 787 was a particularly bold technological leap over previous aircraft. But will those reassurances satisfy the flying public?
Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general of the U.S. Transportation Department and FAA critic who’s now an aviation lawyer, said she would not fly aboard a Dreamliner.
"It’s very serious. Nobody wants to get on a plane with these things happening," Schiavo said.
Schiavo said she thinks that if Boeing and the FAA believe there is something wrong with a few batteries, replacing them with other lithium-ion batteries would be a quick repair. But, she said, the FAA might force Boeing to use an entirely different type of battery, which could require redesign work and a new round of regulatory approvals that might take months.