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There is no end to the bad news for the US aircraft manufacturer Boeing, it seems therefore likely that the B787 breakdown series is associated with flight safety.

Is the B787 aircraft safe?

We examined this question as outlined below.

To get started, we need first to understand, what  “flight safety” means.

Definition of flight safety

There is no universal and officially determined definition of the concept of “flight safety”. It is rather a combination of several required conditions so that a flight reaches its destination with a maximum of safety and a minimum risk of accidents, hence, an interaction between rules, environmental influences and technical and human factors.

Flight safety is the desired optimum state in which flight operations are executed in circumstances that can be controlled as sustainably as possible with minimal (tolerable) risk.

Presupposing that there is a sufficiently large database, however, specific safety characteristics can be determined for certain airlines, types of aircraft or regions of the world.

However, reliable statements with respect to flight safety can be made only in a longer term analysis and with a greatest possible coverage of accident data.

To answer the above question it must be checked if there are already sufficient reliable statements, or not, which allow stating negative safety characteristics.

Appraisal of airworthiness

The legislator requires sustainable and verifiable airworthiness for all aircrafts.
Airworthiness is a basic precondition for the desired optimum state. If it does not exist, flight safety is not given, if it is restored, the optimum state can be reached again.

The problems with B787 were caused by individual aircraft components, which were submitted to an airworthiness procedure; they have been solved with technical directives being passed to manufacturers and airlines. In other words, the airworthiness is restored.

The Federal Aviation Administration, briefly FAA, is responsible for these directives and the European Aviation Safety Agency EASA for Europe.

In the opinion of the competent authorities, there are no further concerns regarding the flight safety of B787.

Let’s proceed and check the Airlines behavior: do they share the statements of the authorities and manufacturer?

The order list could provide a hint

Deliveries of B787

Till today, 84 aircrafts of type B787 have been delivered to 14 airlines:

  • AeroMexico
  • Air India
  • ANA
  • British Airways
  • China Southern AL
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • Hainan Airlines
  • JAL
  • LAN Airlines
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Norwegian Long Haul
  • Qatar Airways
  • Thomson Airways
  • United Airlines

 

Orders of B787

Overall, 58 airlines have ordered 896 aircrafts up to 2020:

 

Current route plan of B787 (schedule valid until March 2014)

The traffic performance of the Boeing 787 shows a constant growing

Overview of daily flights per country/region

Boeing 787 is a long-haul aircraft currently serving 98 destinations in 46 countries.
The B787 aircraft flies an estimated 310 million kilometers per year, which corresponds to the flight performance of a mid-size scheduled airline (e.g. Alaska Airways).

Despite the breakdown series, the customers still place their trust in “Dreamliner”, which is reflected in the high order quantities and the operational traffic.

Let’s get a closer view into the breakdownseries:

B787 – breakdown series: fundamental safety problems?

Occurrences associated with the operation of an aircraft are classified into three categories:
1.    Accident (heaviest category)
2.    Serious incident (medium category)
3.    Incident (weakest category)

Since the B787 aircraft was put into service, the incidents can be graded into two occurrences:
•    Fires or smoke in the passenger compartment or in the cargo compartment
•    System failures which could have caused difficulties controlling the aircraft

The above occurrences fall in the category “serious incidents when operating an aircraft“ and entail an investigation by the Aviation Safety Authority.
The results of these investigations revealed that several airworthiness directives were passed to manufacturers and the airline.
The directives are immediately valid and binding. Once they have been implemented, the aircrafts are again considered as airworthy and thus safe for air traffic.
According to the competent authorities, there are no further concerns regarding the flight safety of B787.

 

Comparison with new developments of other model aircrafts

We asked ourselves if the B787 breakdown series is particularly striking in comparison with other newly developed models.
The best comparable aircraft here would be Airbus A350, which has not been delivered yet.
So we must make comparisons with other models showing certain similarities to B787: flight distance, capacities or new developments (e.g. A380)

  • Boeing 777
  • Boeing 767
  • Airbus 380
  • Airbus 340
  • Airbus 330


a. How many aircrafts have been produced per model so far?*

*Note: Year-to-date

 

b. Annual production figures, per model*

* Period – commissioning +10 years

 

c. All occurrences per model till today

 

d. All occurrences in the first 3 years of operation

e. All incidents (cumulated: accidents, serious incidents and incidents),  10-year period, broken down by manufacturer/ aircraft type

(Note: B787 has been in service for 3 years only!)

 

 

Summary


Reliable statements with regard to flight safety can be made only in a longer term analysis and with a greatest possible coverage of accident data. Given that Boeing 787 has been in regular service only for three years, these statements cannot yet be made at present.
Evidence of lasting operational safety remains to be provided.

It is noticeable that B787-8 has to deal with systemic ‘teething problems‘, however, this is due to the fact that B787 is a new development on the basis of a modified manufacturing process:
•    built with composites only
•    outsourcing of many components, which had thwarted the previous development, to foreign companies

There is still no comparable aircraft type being manufactured according to the same or similar method of production.

According to the competent authorities, there are no further concerns regarding the flight safety of B787.

Despite the breakdown series, the customers still place their trust in “Dreamliner”, which is reflected in the high order quantities.

When evidence of lasting operational safety has been provided, we consider B787 to be a very successful aircraft.

 

Criticism


1. As regards planning and concept, the B787 aircraft is certainly an excellent aircraft to reduce costs in the long-haul sector, thus increasing revenues. 
By contrast, there is the delicate fact that the supervisory authority FAA had left the testing and certification of the important battery systems to the manufacturer Boeing, meaning that Boeing is/was controlled by Boeing.

2. No verifiable evidence has been provided yet of how to repair damaged fuselage components, for example under mechanical load (e.g. Jetway collision) and thermal load (fire, lightning), if there are no more riveted joints that can be disconnected. In this case, entire fuselage sections (so-called “tons”) would rather have to be exchanged.
Boeing has left this question open so far.

 

Author:

  • Marc Israel, Tarmac Aviation GmbH –  AirlineProfiler.eu
  • Jan-Arwed Richter ,  JACDEC.DE

October 2013

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