Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Dreamliner nightmare? Boeing 787 safety concerns raised

Way.com explores the latest safety concerns of Boeing's 787.

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A Boeing 787 photographed high in the sky.

Toni. M // Shutterstock

Boeing had the worst start to 2024 when a mid-air blowout happened on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 while flying at around 16,000 ft. Well, it could be more nightmarish for the American aircraft manufacturer. The latest threat is in the form of a whistleblower, Sam Salehpour, who has been working with the company since 2007, alleging that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner isn't safe. 

The statement gained the interest of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which had qualms about the company's manufacturing procedures after the mid-air blowout incident on the 737 Max 9. Now, with Sam Salehpour having testified before a Senate subcommittee on April 17, is Boeing going to be in more trouble? This article from Way.com will take you through Salehpour's revelations on the safety of the Boeing Dreamliner, the subsequent developments, and more on the aircraft.

Sam Salehpour's Whistleblowing

Salehpour, who works as a quality engineer in the company, claimed that the fuselage of some Boeing 787 Dreamliners wasn't properly fastened together. The error could lead the aircraft to tear open while in air after thousands of trips. He further said that many employees used "excessive stress" on vital parts to make it look as if there were no gaps between the metal components.

He said that the company was doing this to make aircraft swiftly and has been doing this for years to meet production goals. However, he alleged that the lifespan of the aircraft could be shorter. Salehpour was responsible for examining defects and developing strategies to avoid issues in the production line.

He also claimed that he addressed the concerns about the aircraft's safety to higher authorities. But he was ignored, and they put him in the 777 program.

Alaska Airlines Incident: The Turning Point

Though reassigned to another program, Salehpour claimed that he reported his concerns. He alleged that a supervisor scared him with the threat of physical violence when he did so. It was when the mid-air blowout happened on an Alaska Airlines Flight in January that he decided to file a complaint with the FAA via his attorney, Debra Katz. He wanted to avoid the catastrophic damage that could happen to these aircraft due to the alleged production issues. The letter sent by Salehpour's lawyers to the FAA also claims that he even found faults in the assembly process of Boeing 777.

FAA's Stand on Boeing Dreamliner

After Salehpour claimed that the fuselage of some Dreamliners weren't properly fastened together, the FAA started investigating these claims. The FAA didn't ground any airplanes due to this incident. As of now, no formal comments have been made on this by the FAA.

Why Did the Boeing 787 Dreamliner Have Problems?

If you think this was the first time that the aircraft came under the scrutiny of the FAA, then it's a big "no."

The FAA grounded all the U.S.-operated aircraft after two lithium-ion batteries malfunctioned. The scary part is that one battery even led to a fire near the tail of a parked airplane in Boston on Jan. 7, 2013. The FAA cleared the airplanes for flying only after approving the revised battery design in April 2013.

Also, the company had to cut down on aircraft production starting from 2019 due to quality control issues. Also, there was a temporary break in aircraft deliveries from January 2021 to August 2022. In August 2022, the FAA authorized the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner for delivery since 2021 after the company made the required inspection and apt improvements to meet certification standards.

What Boeing Said

The company has defended the production process of 787 and 777 airplanes, dismissing Salehpour's claims and allegations. According to the company, they're fully confident about the wide-body airliner and stated that the claims about the 787's structural integrity are incorrect and do not reflect the extensive work it has done to ensure the aircraft's quality and long-term safety.

The company further stated that the issues raised have already been subjected to close inspection by the FAA and do not presently pose any security concerns. Based on the examination and any future inspections, the company is confident that the wide-body airliner will maintain its strength and service life.

What Is a Boeing 787 Dreamliner?

When launched, this wide-body airliner was targeted to consume 20% less fuel than its predecessor, the Boeing 767. Also, it aimed to transport around 200-300 passengers on point-to-point routes of up to 8,500 nautical miles (9,800 mi).

The three variants of this wide-body airliner are as follows:

  • Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner – Shorter variant
  • Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – Longer variant
  • Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner – Longest variant

Technical Specifications

Table showing category specifications of the 787-8, 787-9 and 787-10 variants.

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According to Boeing, these are the technical specs of the various variants. All these variants have a length and wingspan of 17m and 60m, respectively, and use the GEnx-1B/Trent 1000 engine.

How Many Boeing 787s Are in Operation?

Table showing a list of airlines, their aircraft subseries and numbers of aircraft in service.

Way.com

According to Cirium, a reputed aviation analytics source, 154 Boeing 787 aircraft are registered in the U.S., including 22 from Aeroméxico and Avianca. With 71, United Airlines operates the maximum number of 787 Dreamliners. Hawaiian and American Airlines operate the rest. Globally, there are 1,078 Boeing 787s in service. With 605, the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is the most widely used one.

Based on information from Cirium, this table shows the total number of aircraft that each airline uses.

Aircraft in Service Globally

Table showing Boeing aircraft subseries and numbers of aircraft in service.

Way.com

According to Boeing, they delivered 13 Dreamliners in the first quarter of 2024. 

What Is So Special about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner?

The superior aerodynamics, efficient engines, and mostly composite structure allow it to lower fuel usage by 25% and emit 25% less pollutants than previous models of aircraft. Part of the materials used to construct the aircraft can be recycled once the aircraft ends its service life.

Also, the company claims that the aircraft has higher cabin pressure and higher humidity. So, passengers flying in this will feel they're at an altitude of 6,000 feet, which is 2,000 feet lower than that of a typical flight. These changes will help in reducing headaches, dry eyes, and passenger fatigue.

Is the Boeing 787 Safe?

Though the aircraft have been involved in some accidents, there have been no fatalities or hull losses. Though Salehpour's allegations are serious, the FAA hasn't grounded any aircraft as of now. So, currently, there's no proof that the wide-body airliner isn't safe.

However, in March 2024, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flight from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, faced a sudden drop, causing injuries to around 50 passengers, with some getting pinned to the ceiling. The company said that the issue was likely due to a cockpit accident.

Trust in Boeing Drops

Image showing results to “Trust in Boeing Plummets After Safety Incidents” by Statista.

Way.com

Recent data from Statista shows that the net trust in Boeing has declined considerably. Net trust is the portion of respondents who trust a brand minus those who distrust it. So, according to the data, the net trust among respondents fell by 14 percentage points between Q4 of 2023 and Q1 of 2024 (January 1-February 28).

The biggest dip is among business travelers, with a 26 percentage point difference in the two quarters. We believe that these travelers had more trust in Boeing, and the trust plummeted significantly in accordance with the recent safety issues. When it comes to frequent flyers, the net trust dropped by 17 percentage points.

So, even though the company claims that its aircraft are safe, U.S. travelers seem to have safety concerns.

Dive into More Info

Where is the Boeing 787 built?

The Boeing 787 is being built at a 334,000 sq ft assembly plant in North Charleston, South Carolina. It's the only plant where the production of this wide-body airliner happens.

How many seats are on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner?

The 787 Dreamliner has around 210-330 seats, depending on the variant and flight range. The Boeing 787-8 has around 210-250 seats, the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner has around 250-290, and the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner has around 300-330 seats. The total number of seats also varies according to the airline's confirmation preferences.

Is the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner big?

The Boeing 787-9 aircraft is usually considered wide-body, mid-sized, and long-range.

Is the Boeing 787 the same as the Dreamliner?

Yes, both are the same.

Why did Boeing stop making the 787?

The FAA grounded all 787s in January 2013 until the updated battery design was certified in April 2013. Also, substantial quality control concerns from 2019 onward led to a production slowdown and, from January 2021 to August 2022, a complete halt in deliveries.

How much does a Boeing 787 cost?

The rate varies by the variant. For instance, the 787-8 variant costs around $248.3 million, the 787-9 costs around $292.5 million, and the 787-10 costs nearly $338.4 million.

Is the Boeing 777 or 787 better?

Both are recognized wide-body commercial aircraft; however, there are a few important differences between them. Though the 787 is more technologically advanced and fuel-efficient, the 777 is bigger and has a greater flight range.

This story was produced by Way.com and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.