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Posts from the ‘Boeing 787 Dreamliner’ Category

Innovation versus practice: The case of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

March 10th, 2013

Kinny Cheng

The New York Times has an excellent article on the current state of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner groundings, which starts off by reiterating the idea of how the Dreamliner was originally designed with the capability “to reach any airport on the globe without having to stop”.

Some highlights:

As a result, George W. Hamlin, an aviation consultant, said he believed that to justify even its current ability to fly up to three hours from the nearest airport, Boeing would have to demonstrate that its new battery case could contain a fire for at least 180 minutes. Otherwise, he said, the plane’s appeal could diminish.

Here, Mr. Hamlin has voiced his professional opinion, and believes the containment of a fire for at least 180 minutes would be — let’s say — sufficient for the 787’s appeal to remain.

Having a fire in a plane is a situation all pilots dread. (They are trained to find the nearest landing spot.) But containing a potential fire could be an acceptable answer for the F.A.A., Mr. Weber and Mr. Hamlin said.

The article raises the fact of how all pilots dread of having to deal with a fire on-board, assuming while it’s in-flight — and immediately describes how the FAA could be made to accept a containment-only solution.

Right. Okay…

Now, let’s backtrack a few paragraphs, and we have this:

“It is crucially important that the powers that be get convinced that Boeing can contain and exhaust a fire, and that the fix really worked,” said Hans J. Weber, the president of Tecop International, an aviation consulting firm.

Note the use of the phrase “contain and exhaust a fire”, and not just simply “contain”?

Big difference, folks.

Boeing originally sought to make the 787s the first jets to be certified to the five-and-a-half-hour standard right from their creation. But software problems with the plane’s low-fuel gauge during the early testing phase delayed those plans. Once the plane entered service, a series of episodes with the 787’s sophisticated electrical systems, in addition to the battery cases, added to the F.A.A.’s doubts over the 787’s basic reliability, analysts said.

“The issue here is that we have intermittent problems with the electrical systems that are happening at an unnerving frequency,” Mr. Mann said. “And all this suggests to me huge reliability issues. And that is certainly not something you want when you’re five hours from the nearest airport over the North Pole or the South Pacific somewhere.”

To this day, those “sophisticated electrical systems” are far from perfect. Remember the situations which United had with their 787 after commercial operations began?

The article also goes into the ETOPS certification for the 787 Dreamliner, and how Boeing was requesting for a higher certification rating for their latest-and-greatest. I won’t touch upon this subject, but will offer this food-for-thought: Maybe we’ll start seeing the evaluation of an aircraft’s overall electrical system in an ETOPS certification process too?

A highly recommended read, from tip to toe. Draw your own conclusions.

The intrinsic effects on Norwegian Air’s sans-787 international launch

March 8th, 2013

Kinny Cheng

Air Transport World:

Low-cost carrier (LCC) Norwegian Air Shuttle will launch its long-haul services with Airbus A340s to make up for delivery delays of its Boeing 787s.

The Scandinavian carrier will wet-lease two A340-300s from Portuguese leasing specialist Hi Fly to begin its planned services to New York and Bangkok in late spring and early summer. The initial Oslo-New York JFK is scheduled for May 30, with Oslo-Bangkok following June 23.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that the 787 situation is still unresolved.

But what many people seem to have forgotten, throughout this whole situation, is the effect it has (and will have) on the overall passenger experience and how it can affect the airline’s branding and product proposition.

Norwegian Air was originally meant to operate a brand-new, state-of-the-art aircraft, with dedicated sets of crew well-versed with the ins-and-outs of the 787 Dreamliner. The inauguration of the airline’s first-of-several international operations is a major landmark event, which currently only flies within Europe.

Now, the Scandinavian-based budget airline has to make do with a lease on a much-older aircraft, with crew that won’t be of the Norwegian Air’s forte, to operate the airline’s new international routes for an indefinite period of time.

The effect of this change, albeit unfortunate, will be significant on the minds of those passengers flying the affected services.

Think about that.

The 787 disruptions to the commercial airline industry

February 18th, 2013

Kinny Cheng

Aviation Week writers Jens Flottau, Cathy Buyck, and Bradley Perrett has this fantastic and very-informative piece on the 787 situation, and how the delays due to the lithium-ion batteries situation is causing havoc for operators.

“Norwegian Air Shuttle was the first airline to confirm it has been alerted by Boeing. Deliveries of its first two aircraft, previously scheduled for April and June, are likely to be affected. The carrier says Boeing has not announced a new delivery date or given written confirmation of potential delay.

Boeing’s customer warning is only the latest sign that the manufacturer now recognizes what others have been predicting for some time: The 787 grounding is likely going to be a matter of several, if not many, months, rather than a short-term issue that can be resolved quickly.”

No one really knew how the situation was going to play out. But once all the 787 operators made the decision to ground their entire fleet of Dreamliners, that was when the situation started to intensify — to the point now, where we are beginning to hear of official delays to deliveries. Although previously expected, this confirmation only further propagates broader suspicions of possible forthcoming scenarios…

“But Clark’s support and other carriers’ silence do not mean that huge disruptions are not already occurring. Airlines such as Qatar Airways that have based the launch of new routes on 787 arrivals must revise their plans because they are lacking aircraft. Qatar could be forced to significantly curtail network growth if deliveries are extensively delayed.”

Both All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines have had to publicly announce route cancellations and equipment changes to their existing routes, where they have 17 and 7 supposedly-operating Dreamliners respectively. They are also the two biggest operators of the 787 aircraft type. At the end of January, ANA said that the airline has lost more than US$15 million due to the groundings.

As for Qatar Airways, the sustained silence from its ever-so-vocal boss is somewhat troubling, especially in a scenario where the grounding involves an aircraft type it operates. Akbar Al Baker’s airline has five of the 787 Dreamliners, all of which are now sitting around at Doha Airport doing absolutely nothing. This is the “calm before the storm”, I’d say — considering his reactions on prior incidents involving the 787 delivery delays and the A380 wing rib issues.

“Similarly, a crucial part of Norwegian’s future business model hinges on the availability of the 787. It is now a European low-fare airline, but it planned to open its first long-haul services to New York and Bangkok in the summer using the 787. It is considering leasing another aircraft type for three months in order not to have to cancel the launch of the new operation. “As one of Boeing’s biggest customers in Europe, we expect that the aircraft manufacturer will do everything in its power to get the aircraft ready for delivery as soon as possible,” Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos says.”

Norwegian Air Shuttle has been eyeing to expand its operations internationally for some time now, and the 787 Dreamliner was meant to be the aircraft type to achieve that on flights out of their home bases in Oslo, Norway and Stockholm, Sweden. This very-much-unprecedented-and-unwelcomed situation is clearly playing against the airline’s favour.

(And being the #avgeek that I am, I was originally planning to participating in the inaugural festivities for the Oslo-Bangkok 787 flight, which is now clearly no longer happening until further notice.)

““A sustained grounding and halt of new deliveries of 787 aircraft would support certain used aircraft values and rentals, especially for A330-200s and 767-300ERs,” says Amentum Capital CEO Martin Bouzaima.”

Then, there is the market for aircraft leasing. I’m no expert when it comes to this subject matter. However, I will use the term “lucrative” to describe what the 787 Dreamliner situation has created for lessors (one-word translation: “opportunity”). Airlines negatively affected by the grounding are not even close to smelling the roses, and will have to make do with some kind of arrangement to create or maintain current and/or foreseen capacities.

“[Airline anaylst Ed Greenslet] argues that the most difficult issue for Boeing will be “to assure airlines and passengers that whatever is done to fix the problem does, in fact, fix it.” He notes that it is “not hard to imagine that all the assurances in the world may not, for a long time, overcome the concerns that users of the airplane have about its safety. That, more than the costs of the fix, of delayed deliveries and of compensation to airlines, may be the greatest consequence of, and threat to, the 787 program from this. And it is what may, in the end, force Boeing to change to a different battery.””

I simply could not put it any better myself.

Boeing’s attempt to salvage this situation with words and more words — like how their “ years of experience and deep expertise confirm that, like other technologies, when the appropriate battery, system and airplane protections are in place, lithium-ion batteries deliver significant benefits” — will be far from enough to alleviate the concerns and worries of the general public (and not just the flying types).

The 787 situation is very real — so real that more than just bits-and-pieces of (related) news would’ve made it into the living room by now. Chats around the water cooler will most probably involve the number “787” in some form or another. And when your family and friends starts asking if you’ll be flying the 787 on your next trip, then — clearly — it isn’t something that will go away by simply talking your way out of…

And I’m almost certain there’s someone out there taking wagers on whether the 787 will ultimately end up with a resolved lithium-ion battery architecture, or Boeing giving into failure (and arrogance) and reverting to nickel-cadium technology.

“IAG subsidiary British Airways has 24 787s on firm order, eight of them 787-8s and 16 787-9s. The airline has expected its first 787-8 in May and a total of four are due this year.

American Airlines, United, Air Canada, Qantas Airways and others say they have not been formally notified yet of delivery delays for their 787s. Some, like American, are not due to receive their aircraft until the end of 2014.

For other carriers, the persisting Dreamliner problems are a godsend. Gulf Air, for instance, used the past 787 delivery delays to cancel part of its order without penalty, and the troubled Bahraini airline might follow suit to further reduce it 787 commitment as it tries to survive.”

Finally, we get to the other 787 customers which have yet to have their aircraft put together by The Big B, those who’ve also yet to receive any formal notification on whether their Dreamliners will be further delayed by the current battery saga. I really wonder how those same customers truly feel about all the developments to the aircraft type’s programme thus far, even if they’re (trying to) maintaining their supportive gestures in an official capacity — or, have chosen to just stay quiet.

I wouldn’t be the least surprised if some airline, or airlines, ultimately chooses to cancel their aircraft order — for whatever reason. There’s simply too much at stake right now for Boeing. They need to tread carefully, simply because the concerns of the 787 are no longer just that of the manufacturer or its customers (airlines) — but also those who will actually fly them. Ed Greenslet’s statement about the assurance of the 787 being a safe aircraft to fly on will be a truly arduous feat, especially with Boeing continuing on its current course.

However, to be fair, until we learn more about the cause of the fault in those lithium-ion batteries, trying to pick the best method of execution will be very difficult to almost impossible. I’m sure one of Boeing’s contingencies is, most probably, similar to that of Airbus’s with the A350 — it will be their trump card.

Boeing’s knee-jerk (official) response to Airbus’s “Plan B” execution

February 17th, 2013

Kinny Cheng

Boeing yesterday released an official statement regarding its position on the 787’s lithium-ion batteries, after Airbus officially reverted to nickel-cadium batteries for its upcoming A350 aircraft. This was posted by on their Facebook page:

“Boeing is confident in the safety and reliability of lithium-ion batteries. Our years of experience and deep expertise confirm that, like other technologies, when the appropriate battery, system and airplane protections are in place, lithium-ion batteries deliver significant benefits. We are deeply involved with the appropriate investigation authorities in developing a full understanding of two recent battery events on 787s and are working tirelessly to create the solutions that will allow the 787 fleet to return to full flight status. There’s nothing we’ve learned in the investigations that would lead us to a different decision regarding lithium-ion batteries.”

Well, it looks like Boeing is still very confident of the newer battery technology, and that a solution to the conundrum will somehow be found in good time.

(But, of course, Boeing management would’ve had to say something on these lines, no matter what. From their current perspective, there’s simply too much to lose if they were to start re-considering their position on the battery technology now. Heck, who am I to say so, *right?*)

There were also some interesting comments made about the Boeing statement (with the exception of the very first one, being a classic “fanboy” response) — but this one, by Andy Martin, stood out:

“Airbus is taking a very sensible precaution against the rules regarding Li-Ion being made much more stringent in future, and by doing so is de-risking the timeline and certification of the A350 program. If Airbus carries on with the technology and then finds the Feds and EASA et al totally pulls the rug from under Li-Ion in a few week/months time, or makes certification of the technology much more difficult, or adds extra criteria for certification that the current design doesn’t allow for (in part due to Boeing’s f*** up introducing the technology before it was fully proven), then the A350 program would by that time be in a far worse shape that it will be with them going back to NiCad technology now. And Airbus can always offer a Li-Ion retrofit / upgrade at a later date should the Li-Ion technology eventually be proven safe. IMHO Airbus are doing the right thing to protect the A350 program and get the airplane to their customers with the least risk of delays caused [by] concerns over electrical systems.”

Andy pretty much makes the case. Key phrases here were “Airbus is taking a very sensible precaution” and “de-risking the timeline and certification of the A350 program” — which is exactly what Airbus is attempting to do with the “Plan B” enactment.

Airbus firms decision on moving (back) to Ni-Cad battery tech for the A350

February 15th, 2013

Kinny Cheng

The Seattle Times:

“Airbus said Thursday it is dropping lithium-ion batteries from its new A350 airplane because of uncertainty surrounding the technology that has led to the grounding of Boeing’s 787.

The European planemaker said it has decided to revert to conventional nickel-cadmium batteries for the A350. The plane is a wide-body long-range jet rival to the 787 and is expected to make its first flight around the middle of the year.

Airbus says it does not expect the battery switch to lead to a setback in the A350’s schedule.

“Airbus considers this to be the most appropriate way forward in the interest of program execution and A350 XWB reliability,” spokeswoman Mary Anne Greczyn said.”

Needless to say, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner Lithium-ion battery saga has reached a new highpoint. While LOT Polish Airlines’ announcement yesterday of a indefinite grounding of their current fleet-of-two until October, Airbus had previously stated on-record the possibility of their latest move, which most certainly is due to the meeting of time-based deadlines.

Any more delays on the A350 programme won’t bode well for Airbus.

On learning of the news, I asked FlightGlobal reporter David Kaminski-Morrow about how the aircraft will gain certification whilst still utilising Lithium-ion batteries for test flights. It seems that Airbus will retain the current configuration/set-up for initial flight-envelope testing, which doesn’t depend on battery type.

Shortly after, David’s article on the A350 battery type switch was published on FlightGlobal:

“Airbus is opting to switch back to nickel-cadmium batteries for its A350 as a risk-reduction strategy, but insists the change will not affect entry into service dates.

It will continue to equip its flight-test aircraft with lithium-ion batteries in order to preserve the schedule for maiden flight and initial envelope testing.

Flight-envelope tests are independent of the source of electrical power and Airbus is still aiming to have the first flight-test aircraft, MSN1, airborne in mid-year.

But Airbus will pursue a certification programme with nickel-cadmium batteries for production aircraft, the first of which are due to be delivered in the second half of 2014.”

Note the key phrases “risk-reduction strategy” and “not affect [EIS] dates” — this is pretty much bottom-line for Airbus at this point in time.

(And to those select individuals who firmly believes they’ve been in the industry long enough to hand down judgement on Airbus’s reluctance of not sharing their expertise, to resolve a situation in a time of crisis, your prematurity has earned you my disrespect.)

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