American dream: putting Boeing's 787 Dreamliners back in the air6 September 2013
After battery problems grounded dozens of Boeing 787 Dreamliners in January of this year, the aircraft has finally been recertified as fit to fly. Future Airport speaks to Boeing about how it overcame this technical challenge and the market response so far to this ultra-fuel-efficient plane.
Boeing's 787 Dreamliner has been plagued by technical difficulties, most notably with its lithium-ion batteries, leading to the aircraft being grounded in several countries at the start of 2013.
Then, on 12 July, an Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner caught fire at Heathrow airport. An investigation found that the fire was caused by the lithium-manganese dioxide batteries used to power the plane's emergency locator transmitter (ELT).
The FAA has since published an airworthiness directive, with airlines advised to inspect or remove ELTs on Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Later in July, ANA and United Airlines also reported problems with ELTs on Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
How have you overcome the original battery problem on the 787 Dreamliner?
A specially created team has conducted extensive engineering analysis of what caused the 787's batteries to overheat in two incidents in January, and has spent more than 100,000 hours developing test plans, building assessment rigs, conducting trials and analysing the results to ensure the proposed solutions met all requirements.
Boeing also engaged a team of more than a dozen battery experts from across multiple industries, government, academia and consumer safety to review and validate the company's assumptions, findings, proposed solution and test plan. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved this solution and 787s are back in service with deliveries occurring regularly. The production rate of the aircraft currently stands at seven a month, with the aim of increasing that figure to ten by the end of the year.
How efficient is the 787?
An array of technological advances contributes towards increasing the fuel efficiency of the 787, including the use of lightweight composite materials, advanced systems, new engines and modern aerodynamics. Everything from the shape and size of the wings through to the design of the nacelle makes the plane more aerodynamic and reduces drag. The 787 consumes 20% less fuel and produces fewer carbon emissions than similarly sized planes.
At the Paris Air Show, Boeing also announced the launch of the 787-10 Dreamliner, the third member of the super-efficient 787 family. It will be longest group member, with a length of 56ft and seating for 300-330 passengers.
Do you think customers will be using the 787 to fly new routes?
The 787's long range (up to 8,500nm) means it can fly direct from the UK's regional airports to a number of international destinations. For example, it will be possible to fly straight from Bristol to Honolulu, Santiago or Bali. The 787 will connect at least 450 new city pairs. To date, the 787 has accumulated 930 orders from 58 customers worldwide.
What impact will the aircraft have on airport operations?
The main benefit will be to people who live and work near airports. The 787 has a 60% smaller noise footprint than similarly-sized aeroplanes. When taking off at Heathrow Airport for example, the 85dB noise contour remains inside the airport boundary.
What do you think the future holds for the 787?
The market size for the segment in which the 787 fits is projected at 3,300 units over 20 years (2011-30) valued at $630 billion (based on list prices in 2010). The 787 is expected to take over half of this market.
Technology developed on the 787 will also be applied to other models. The Boeing Sky Interior, now being fitted to existing 737s, was inspired by the interior on the 787. The serrated nacelles on the 787, which help to reduce noise emissions, have been applied to the 747-8 and will also appear on the forthcoming 737 MAX. The 777X, the proposed new version of the market favourite 777, should also feature many aspects of the 787 technology, such as the composite wing. This would deliver an even greater fuel efficiency and environmental benefits.