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You’re Grounded!

June 28, 2013

I’m a little behind the curve, and I certainly take no joy in seeing a complex engineering project very visibly have troubles.  It appears that Boeing is continuing to have birthing pains on one of the most innovative commercial aircraft, and it’s bad for the industry, and for all of us.

More than 100 passengers were left stranded  after a malfunctioning 787 Dreamliner was  grounded in Tokyo, Japan, today – the fourth such incident for the  trouble-plagued aircraft in 10 days.

The All Nippon Airways 787 Dreamliner was  delayed after a cockpit message said the plane might not be able to supply power  for its air-conditioning system.

But an ANA spokesman insisted the failure was  not linked to the lithium ion battery problems that had grounded the jets for  four months from mid-January.

Earlier this week, a Denver-bound  United  Airlines Dreamliner was diverted back to Houston after a problem  with its brake  indicator.

The previous week, a United flight from Denver to Tokyo was diverted to Seattle  because of an indicated problem with its oil filter, while a Houston-bound flight from London made an  unscheduled landing at  Newark’s Liberty International Airport due to a ‘low oil  indication’. 

In January, the entire global fleet of 50  Dreamliners was grounded for four months after batteries in two planes  overheated – the first time since 1979 that every plane of a particular type was  ordered to stay out of the air for safety reasons.

One could claim that the jet was rushed into service, but it’s actually been significantly delayed from flying given the long design and debug cycles that Boeing was doing to get it right.  The complexity of the project can’t be understated.  It’s a carbon-fiber exterior airplane designed for long-haul flights and passenger comfort.  Even as a person who’s not that fond of traveling, I’ve been excited to finally get a chance to see one of these and maybe even fly in one.  For now, it looks like that enthusiasm might be cooling for quite a few people, at least until Boeing and the airlines can get the birthing pains behind them.

I’m hopeful that a lot of this is a mis-understanding of procedures to get the plane ready for flight, and that everything can start to flow smoothly.  As a proponent of technology innovation, I want to see some soaring, not planes on the ground.

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