The irony of course is in the name Dreamliner. What seemed like a series of minor teething problems has in the past week become a huge PR nightmare for the giant Boeing company .
First a battery pack fire in one of Japan Airline's sparkling new 787 jets after it landed at Boston's Logan Airport, with the passengers from Tokyo safely disembarked. The following day, at the same airport a fuel leak from another 787 : did someone leave a stopcock open? A few hours later, the plane took off safely back to Japan.
But the tales multiplied - windscreen cracks, brake problems.
Finally on Friday US authorities ordered a review of electrical systems in the new plane "following a spate of incidents," said the New York Times. But it was an article on the Forbes website , headlined "Boeing has an airplane problem, not a PR problem." that burrowed deeper into the issues - and suggested that Boeing follow the Rolls Royce road to put the problems right .
The Federal Aviation AdministrationIn said its unusual high-priority review- 15 months after the plane came into service- it would focus on how the 787 was designed, manufactured and assembled and would examine critical electrical systems as well as other quality-control issues.
“We are concerned about recent events involving the Boeing 787,” Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, said in Washington. “We will look for the root causes of the recent events and do everything we can to ensure these events don’t happen again.” But the review will not require the grounding of the 787 fleet, officials said.
The F.A.A. had spent 200,000 hours certifying the plane before it went into service.
F.A.A.administrator Michael Huerta, said the review would focus on the electrical systems of the plane, including the batteries and power distribution systems, and how they interact with each other.
Raymond Conner, head of Boeing’s commercial airplane division, repeated at the press conference that Boeing had complete confidence in the 787s.
“Every new commercial plane has issues when it enters service,” he said .
Boeing has 50 of the planes in the air since the first commercial flight in November 2011 and has orders for more than 800.
Writing in Forbes, contributor Jonathan Salem Baskin , said downplaying recent events might be standard PR practice — and they may well be minor bumps in the ongoing shakedown of the new plane — "but I think Boeing needs to reevaluate its strategy in light of the fact that it has an airplane problem.".
The 787 Dreamliner has been vexed since its inception, he wrote.
The company was convinced by management consulting firms to outsource design and production of the 787’s components.
"While this idea might make sense for sourcing coffeemakers, it was a nonsense approach to assembling perhaps the most complicated and potentially dangerous machines shy of nuclear reactors.
" Parts didn’t fit together with others. Some suppliers subcontracted work to their suppliers and then shrugged at problems with assembly.
"When one part wasn’t available, the next one that depended on it couldn’t be attached and the global supply chain all but seized up. Boeing had to spend $1 billion in 2009 to buy one of the worst offenders and bring the work back in-house."
Delivered components, said Baskin, arrived with instructions and notes written in Chinese, Italian, and other languages.
The outsourcing plan included skipping the detailed blueprints the company would have normally prepared..
Baskin asked, "So are you looking forward to flying on an airplane adopting novel technology with no single blueprint built out of plastic and assembled from pieces that don’t necessarily fit together?"
With uncanny foresight, he wrote, "Regulators might feel compelled to take another look at the planes. God forbid something truly “not minor” happens."
Baskin said Boeing should "do something big," like Rolls Royce did when its new engine flamed out in 2010 (they grounded every plane using it until they were satisfied the problem was solved).
"It needs to narrate operational truths, using social media and TV advertising filled with documented, factual evidence that the 787 is the best, safest plane ever built. Get ahead of the narrative by changing it, not talking as if it doesn’t exist. "
“We actively work with the FAA daily, across all of our product lines,” Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman in Seattle, said prior to the formal announcement of the inquiry. “We are absolutely confident in the reliability and performance of the 787.”
The Dreamliner saves fuel by using five times more electricity than other similar jets
Mike Sinnett, the chief engineer for the Dreamliner, said all new jets have introductory pains the first year or two. The 787’s performance since entering service in 2011 hasn’t been any worse than that of the 777, which made its commercial debut in 1995 and is one of Boeing’s most popular models,, he said.