United returns 787 to service today; WSJ points to other issues

United Airlines is the latest carrier to return the Boeing 787 to service today, on a route from Houston to Chicago. UAL CEO Jeff Smisek is joined by Boeing CEO Jim McNerney on the flight.

Meantime, the Wall Street Journal rained on the parade a bit with an article detailing other issues facing the 787. (Via Google News, but subscription may be required.)

Japan Air Lines, ANA and LAN expect to have the airplane back in service in June, according to reports.

Deliveries of new 787s resumed this month. All this will soon return momentum to Boeing, with formal launch of the 787-10 now anticipated by observes to likely come at the Paris Air Show. Launch will come with orders–widely believed to be from British Airways, Singapore Airlines and Air Lease Corp, and possibly others. If this happens, these will go a long way to restoring the brand damage caused by the ground of nearly 3 1/2 months.

Implications include a boost in the production rate of the 787 to as much as 14 a month. Although this may or may not be announced concurrent with the 787-10 launch, the boost is, in our view, a must. While Boeing expects some 787-9 customers to swap to the 10, reality demands that production increase beyond the 10/mo that will be achieved by the end of this year.

Boeing needs new capacity for the 10 and to open slots for customers who want the 8 and the 9. The line is essentially sold out to 2019-2020 as it is.

EIS for the 10 is planned for 2018, giving the supply chain plenty of time to ramp up.

Fourteen a month–seven in Everett and seven in Charleston–is an unprecedented rate for a wide-body airplane. Airbus is producing the A330 at 10-11 a month and plans to push out the A350 at 10/mo, though at one time there had been talk of a target of 13. The company is already considering a second production line to accommodate demand for the A350-1000. Like the 787, the A350 is essentially sold out to 2019/2020.

41 Comments on “United returns 787 to service today; WSJ points to other issues

  1. It is interesting that Jon Ostrower’s interpretation of the Boeing report seems to strongly suggest that early 787 reliability is dependent on the airline. I suppose that can be said of any aircraft to a certain extent in that well maintained aircraft are generally more reliable.

    I suppose that being the launch customer forced ANA to much more prepared for the 787 in terms of its maintenance and support practices compared to United.

    • Scheduling three hours ahead of any usage to go through the plane and fix all the issues that have mushroomed in the plane while powered off is not really what users would call “maintainance”.
      It is more linked to a judicious amount of humility. More a Japanese trait than an American one ;-)

      Anyway, with this usage pattern dominated by unprecedented intensive care ahead of any
      usage metrics like “dispatch reliability” loose all significance. Same like having 4 frames readied for a single inaugural long range flight.

    • The WSJ article says that the Japanese carriers had not heard anything from Boeing about powering up 3 hrs ahead of time, so I don’t think their reliability numbers are affected by that “suggested” practice.

      The article does suggest that ANA and JAL were more proactive in fixing non-critical items so they had less machine squawks to wade through. It also states that the Japanese carries achieved the 45 miniutes between flights goal.

      Don’t blow the multiple frames at the ready for United’s inaugural long haul flight out of proportion. They did it once and, as far as I’ve read, they are the only carrier that did it.

      Remember, when interpreting a data set, always assuming the worst results in just as much error on average as when the best is always assumed. The truth usually resides somewhere in the middle.

      • “Assuming those two examples are the norm is a distortion.
        This current WSJ article does a good job of putting the Jan story into perspective.”

        Ostrower presented them as examples and not as exceptions.
        This fits in with the seemingly marginal improvements
        gained from initial EIS to United’s inaugural LR flight ( ~ one year of service).

        Lastly the battery incident exposed a rather long general 787 ToDo list for Boeing
        that seems to have been placed on the backburner.
        Visible work on this only started after the grounding and in the shadows of busily
        creating a battery nonsolution with much fanfare.
        Looks like Boeing expected some of the problems to “just go away with time”.

      • Ostrower presented them as examples of “heroic” measures, not as examples of the norm. If there would have been additional supportable instances of these measures, don;t you think Ostrower would have mentioned them in his article as well? He didn’t mention any additional incidents because he either did not have sufficient corroboration to print them, or they didn’t exist. It’s more likely they didn’t exist.

        Yes, the increased scrutiny caused by the battery incident made the public more aware of other reliability issues as well. The claim, however, that Boeing only started working their ToDo list after the battery incident is both unsupportable and has an extremely low probability of being true.

      • Mike Bohnet :
        The article does suggest that ANA and JAL were more proactive in fixing non-critical items so they had less machine squawks to wade through.

        True – and I’m not surprised. As I wrote before, from my own experience, that’s what I would expect from most Japanese customers. They’ll be very proactive in trying to identify potential issues well ahead of time and are actually very demanding that way.
        If you as a supplier expect customers with other cultural backgrounds to execute the same extent of precautions, though, you’re very quickly going to have a discussion about how this is really not the customer’s job and how they feel like they’re beta-testing the product for you.
        I’m not saying either approach is right/wrong – I just wouldn’t expect every customer to react and act the same way…

        Mike Bohnet :
        It also states that the Japanese carries achieved the 45 miniutes between flights goal.

        The article states no such thing.
        It says:

        All Nippon Airways Co. [...] has achieved that target with its 787s dedicated to domestic routes

        While still a positive, it’s much narrower than what you claim.

      • anfromme :
        While still a positive, it’s much narrower than what you claim.

        Since the majority of ANA’s 787 operation was domestic, ANA achieved good turnaround times with the majority of their operation. Obviously, the next step is their long haul ops.

  2. This story is standard. Who would not expect a new operator to have no isse with an a/c that has so many new parts? Maintenance and support will always drive better performance. Good for ANA and JAL to jump on and fix issues, and maybe the rest of the airlines should learn from that approach. Three hours early only makes sense if the cost associated with doing it are in line with normal fleetwide operation. Outside of that Boeing better improve training so growing pains are not showstoppers. Maybe getting a notice on your Boeing phone is a good things if you can act and provide a solution before the airline calls. If not get rid of the option cause it creates noise in the system for those trying to get the bird back up again.

    • l7room :
      This story is standard. Who would not expect a new operator to have no isse with an a/c that has so many new parts? Maintenance and support will always drive better performance. Good for ANA and JAL to jump on and fix issues, and maybe the rest of the airlines should learn from that approach. Three hours early only makes sense if the cost associated with doing it are in line with normal fleetwide operation. Outside of that Boeing better improve training so growing pains are not showstoppers. Maybe getting a notice on your Boeing phone is a good things if you can act and provide a solution before the airline calls. If not get rid of the option cause it creates noise in the system for those trying to get the bird back up again.

      I used to work in technical customer support for four years, and we’ve had our fair share of enterprise customers unhappy with reliability of new hardware and code releases. (Both new customers and customers that had been using our kit for ages.) I have to say that your approach sounds – uhm – original.

      There wasn’t a single instance where customers would – for more than a transitional period, which would be accompanied on their part by much complaining throughout – accept longer start-up/provisioning times (i.e. unproductive periods) than they were used to with their old equipment.
      That includes Japanese customers in particular who were always very meticulous in their requests and frequently logged support issues for things they even remotely suspected might become issues given how they planned to use our products.

      I really hope Boeing has another path than “this is working as designed, you guys may want some training on the product and its maintenance, though”. Customers will only be prepared to accept that to a point once they’ve signed multi-million sum contracts.

  3. WSJ had an extensive story months ago on the extraordinary efforts Boeing and the airlines did to keep the aircraft on schedule. That’s all fine, even a duty, if there is a good learning curve and decreasing level of required MRO attention.

    And one shouldn’t abuse “dispatch reliability” as indication to suggest the aircraft instead of the maintenance organisation is doing a good job.

    • Well, one shouldn’t abuse the WSJ story on Jan 13, 2013 to make the 787 seem unreliable either, as some commenters here have. Only two examples of “heroic” measures were cited in the Jan story, the multiple frames available to support United’s inaugural Tokyo fight, and Boeing supplying spare parts in a pinch for ANA’s inaugural Seattle-Tokyo flight. Assuming those two examples are the norm is a distortion. This current WSJ article does a good job of putting the Jan story into perspective.

  4. Well I hope the 787 troubles are behind us now and the 5 year track record of this project says nothing about the future.

    How is the 787-9 doing? Parts are being brought onto the assembly line. Assembly should start next week and first flight should take place in September. EIS would be in April 2014. The 787-9 will be much more capable. If the enhancements compared to 787-8 are significant, testing and certification might take a little longer IMO.

    • I hope so too. Even though the production system is now running smoothly, the 787 still needs to prove itself by operating at least a few years without a major hiccup.

      Not sure what all has changed on the 787-9 other than the obvious stretch. I do know that at the end of last year, lighter -9 parts were being incorporated into the 787-8, so those parts are being tested now. I’m also assuming that the -9 will benefit from the correction of discovered problems during -8 operations, but who knows, that just makes too much sense.

      Also, the GEnx-1B PIP2 is certified and currently undergoing almost daily flight testing out of BFI, with most of those flights lasting 6 hours or more. I wonder when those will start being installed onto production frames.

  5. Uwe :
    It is more linked to a judicious amount of humility. More a Japanese trait than an American one.

    Pearl Harbor is a good example of Japanese “humility”. ;)

    • Different/later curtain in the act: Pearl Harbor ~= JAL, ANA buying from Airbus.

  6. “Launch will come with orders–widely believed to be from British Airways, Singapore Airlines and Air Lease Corp, and possibly others.”

    All those have 787s on order. Will it be new orders or conversions? The latter option might create some air for the 787 program in the next few years.

  7. Basically, the 787 meets customers’ high expectations of reliability. It isn’t perfect but it isn’t a dog either. “Average” doesn’t make for an interesting story. But it’s fine.

    • “Basically, the 787 meets customers’ high expectations of reliability. It isn’t perfect but it isn’t a dog either.”

      Is that correct. Or are we caught up in a carefully planned 787 marketing recovery campaign where unfavorable realities are smartly avoided / ignored and perception management rules..

      • Hmm,
        3 hours preventive maintainance to get the bird into useable shape for probably slightly more than 4 hours use per day without much improvement over time. ( and nobody talked about the inflight issues that were fixed the night before )

        ~= a “dog” if you switch of the reality distortion field ;-)

      • What I am picking up from the article is that the 787 benefits from a more comprehensive system to monitor components. This allows airlines to pre-emptively replace components before they fail in use and improves dispatch reliability. Against this there is a high number of failures on engine startup. Airlines can pick up some of these failures by powering up early. The end result is a dispatch reliability that is similar to that of the early 777s, which is regarded as a benchmark of a reliable plane. Boeing hoped to improve further on the 777 benchmark, presumably with the monitoring program I referred to. They haven’t been successful with this but they haven’t fallen back either. Which is just fine.

      • “Both ANA and Japan Air Lines Co. —which has the second-largest 787 fleet, with seven Dreamliners—said they haven’t received recommendations from Boeing to power on the Dreamliner well before a day’s first flight or extend time at the gate.”

        What part of this sentence from the article is not understood by the 787 haters?

        • Mike, this is not about what Boeing told their customers but what the customers ( at least some ) seem to have decided on to achieve acceptable dispatch rates.
          ANA and JAL really seem to have silently bent over backwards in this.

      • Uwe,
        This WSJ article is all about an internal Boeing report on 787 reliability. It is this Boeing report that is making the recommendation for some airlines to power up 3 hrs early.

        “The report says carriers should consider turning on the 787’s lithium-ion batteries, computers and electrical system three hours prior to the first flight each day, and adding time between flights to give cockpit crews and mechanics adequate time to resolve any difficulties.”

        It is not clear whether or not Boeing got the early power-up idea from its customers or not, but it is clear to me that ANA and JAL were not and do not need to do this.

  8. “The end result is a dispatch reliability that is similar to that of the early 777s, which is regarded as a benchmark of a reliable plane. ”

    Which is where you start suggesting reliability of the aircraft ok, but in reality the maintenance processes are ok, compensating the aircraft.

    • Reliability of an airliner is always dependent on proper and thorough maintenance processes. The airlines and Boeing will wrestle back and forth over where the “too much” line is.

      • Mike Bohnet :
        Reliability of an airliner is always dependent on proper and thorough maintenance processes. The airlines and Boeing will wrestle back and forth over where the “too much” line is.

        You ignore that none of the operators are strangers to “proper and thorough maintenance”.
        Lower maintenance effort/costs/time was one of Boeing’s main selling points for the 787. So I have a hunch where the airlines are going to stand on this…
        As I wrote above already – if the examples in the WSJ article are representative of what operators are experiencing with the type, a simple “this is working as designed, you guys may want some training on the product and its maintenance, though”, is not going to fly.

      • anfromme :
        Lower maintenance effort/costs/time was one of Boeing’s main selling points for the 787. So I have a hunch where the airlines are going to stand on this…

        It still is a main selling point. It was never expected that it would be instantaneous, or even within the first year. The line between inherent reliability and reliability compensated by good maintenance is always fuzzy and is a moving target to boot. Boeing and its customers will work this out.

    • I would guess so.
      You need the added time to have the system express its ailings and get them fixed
      or tag them hypochondric. ( i.e false positives ). You have staff fleecing the plane for problems 2.. 2.5 hours ahead of any regular usage.

      A380 initally had problems with false failure indications, enough to get press attention.
      http://www.flightglobal.com/page/A380-In-Service-Report/Airbus-A380-In-Service-Technical-issues/
      But as mentioned for SIA they also got 14h/day utilisation ( is that “in use” or “in flight” ?)

    • There is no additional cost to ANA or JAL because they haven’t had to do it. The article also says that ANA has met it’s turnaround benchmark. It looks like United, on the other hand, has to get it’s act together.

      • Mike Bohnet :
        There is no additional cost to ANA or JAL because they haven’t had to do it. The article also says that ANA has met it’s turnaround benchmark. It looks like United, on the other hand, has to get it’s act together.

        According to the article, the earlier power-up is a recommendation to all carriers, though.
        So even if United were the only ones doing it I don’t see how that would constitute a case of them having to get their act together.

      • anfromme :
        So even if United were the only ones doing it I don’t see how that would constitute a case of them having to get their act together.

        My point is that ANA and JAL apparently did not need an early power-up to achieve their reliability.

        I have to fly UA all the time and I have family and friends that work as mechanics for UA. Based on what they tell me, It would not surprise me in the least if UA did not have their act together.

  9. FF :
    Basically, the 787 meets customers’ high expectations of reliability.

    That depends on which customer you ask. The above WSJ article mentioned UA as having scored “lowest in overall reliability by some measures, with disruptions to about one in 10 Dreamliner flights” – which mirrors what I’ve been seeing over the last 382 flights. Since December 7, I have them pegged at 90.3%. Granted, without inside information my methods may be a little crude, but they do align with the WSJ report.

    This doesn’t take into account another 82 scheduled 787 flights by my count which were substituted by other types a day or two in advance with no penalty to DR.

    I think Boeing is incredibly fortunate to have ANA as launch customer.

    • Do you think ANA and to a similar extent JAL were more prepared to maintain the 787 than UA? The both seemed to employ a more gradual intro into service than United did.

      • I see it as ANA and JAL both realised that there would be teething problems and took more care to implement these new aircraft in a “gentle” manner. On the other hand, UA seems to have applied a “business as usal” approach.

        Has any other airline ever gone to such extensive measures to ensure a smooth introduction of a new aircraft type as ANA and JAL have for the 787?

      • I think it’s to be expected for a launch operator to employ a more conservative approach given the brand new type. ANA will also have received additional support from Boeing to help ensure a smooth EIS. That said, I tracked their fleet for a few weeks in March last year when they were experiencing quite a few problems of their own.

        United received their first 787 on Sept. 22nd, almost a year after ANA received theirs. UA went on to conduct their first revenue flight on Nov. 4th and in December had three aircraft scheduled to do 10 daily flights. That doesn’t really strike me as overly ambitious.

        Looks like UA may have been hit with their first tech delay since relaunch as UA1087 left the chute an hour late out of IAH this morning. We should be seeing their fleet’s reliability improve significantly over the coming weeks though as they’ve apparently implemented a number of upgrades.

  10. I think Airbus pretty much raised the bar with their early customer support for the A380, Boeing’s “intensive care” is just what operators expect after that. Unless the 787 is still on intensive care in 6 months it shouldn’t be a worry

    • MartinA :
      I think Airbus pretty much raised the bar with their early customer support for the A380, Boeing’s “intensive care” is just what operators expect after that. Unless the 787 is still on intensive care in 6 months it shouldn’t be a worry

      Even before the grounding it had already been on intensive care for a year – also keep in mind that, given the different delivery rates on the A380 and 787, the same level of care will come in much more expensive on the 787 than it did on the A380 over the same period of time.

  11. Smisek and McNerney riding in coach enjoying the 787s ample shoulder room at 9 abreast. Probably thinking, maybe the A380 wasn’t such a bad idea after all

  12. Mike Bohnet :

    anfromme :So even if United were the only ones doing it I don’t see how that would constitute a case of them having to get their act together.

    My point is that ANA and JAL apparently did not need an early power-up to achieve their reliability.
    I have to fly UA all the time and I have family and friends that work as mechanics for UA. Based on what they tell me, It would not surprise me in the least if UA did not have their act together.

    Just because they (ANA & JAL) say they never got the reccomendation does not necessarily mean they aren’t powering up earlier before the day’s first flight.
    Perhaps they never got the reccomendation since they were the ones to develop this step themselves.

    More important is if these measures (earlier power up and longer break between flights) are considered to be short term ones and if so, how long will it take before thease measures can be dropped?

    Does anybody else not find that all of these panel “incidents” to be a common theme? I have read assertations that panels frequently blow on other aircraft as well as that this is far from being a common occurence.

    • The WSJ article says that ANA achieved their turnaround goal on their domestic 787 operations. If they were the originator of the early start-up procedure, one would think they would have said so when questioned about it. At any rate, I think this is all going to get worked out. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

      As far as the panel incidents go, I know that during the grounding, once the FAA cleared the 787 for test flights, Boeing was doing flights that had no connection to the battery fix certification. I read somewhere that these flights were to test electrical panel fixes.

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