Dreamliner Reliability Does Not Satisfy Boeing, Yet

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Boeing’s (NYSE:BA) 787 Dreamliner began 2013 with battery meltdowns on two different aircraft — a plane operated by Japan Airlines (JALFQ.PK) and one flying for ANA Holdings (ALNPY.PK). Those incidents forced several investigations and, more significantly for Boeing, a worldwide grounding of the entire 787 fleet, the first such global grounding in 30 years. During the three months the Dreamliner was out of the air, Boeing engineers and other industry experts redesigned the system so that the battery cells would be separated and insulated, which put the plane back in the sky in April. But what followed next was a series of well-publicized problems, including even more problems with the plane’s battery.

Thanks to a faulty emergency beacon, an Ethiopian Airlines 787 caught fire at Heathrow Airport, and Norwegian Air Shuttle, the third-largest budget airline in Europe, was forced to rely on Boeing rival Airbus (EADSY.PK) when problems with an electrical system, a hydraulic pump, and a brake indicator kept its fleet of 787s grounded. A litany of mechanical problems is “not where we want the airplane to be, we’re not satisfied with that reliability level of the airplane,” Mike Fleming, Boeing’s vice president for 787 support and services, said during a Friday interview at a news conference in Oslo where Norwegian Air Shuttle is based. The jet’s reliability is improving, he explained, but it is still not satisfactory. Improving reliability means that two flights out of every 100 the Dreamliner makes are delayed, which translates to a reliability rate of 98 percent, a slightly better figure than October’s 97 percent but still well below targets.

For comparison, “the 777 today flies at 99.4 percent, and that’s the benchmark that the 787 needs to attain,” Fleming explained, according to Reuters’ coverage of the news conference. Boeing introduced the 777 in 1995, he continued, and it was not until “the 1999 timeframe we saw sustained performance over 99 percent in that fleet.” In order “to get the fleet above 99 percent you have to keep working every day, so my guess is that it will be similar to what we had with the 777,” he added.

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