Fast Pace of Boeing 787 Fixes Challenges Operators

 - July 3, 2014, 9:29 AM
The first Boeing 787-8 destined for the Netherlands’ Arke Air left Everett, Washington, en route to Amsterdam on June 4. The world 787-8 fleet now operates at a 98.5-percent dispatch reliability rate. (Photo: Boeing)

Resistant to grounding their Boeing 787-8s for even a short time, several operators have indefinitely deferred addressing fixes to some of the airplanes’ last remaining glitches, presenting the manufacturer with an “issue” as it marches toward its target dispatch reliability rate of 99.6 percent. Now seeing a three-month rolling average of roughly 98.5 percent, Boeing expects to reach its benchmark—established by the world’s 777 fleet—by the second quarter of next year, Boeing 787 vice president and chief project engineer Bob Whittington told reporters during a series of briefings the company held in the Seattle area recently.

“The issue right now: in a lot of ways we’re putting out fixes faster than the fleet can consume them,” said Whittington. “The airlines are reluctant to bring the airplanes down more than an overnight to put these fixes into them because they love the fuel burn; the passengers love the airplane; [the airlines] don’t want to pull the airplanes out of service. So we’ve got a little bit of a lag between our releasing the parts and our service bulletins to the incorporation time of getting them on the airplanes.” Whittington noted that some customers fly their 787s an average of 18 hours a day, leaving only six hours a day to fuel and board the airplanes and perform any maintenance.

By mid-June counting 19 customers for the 787, Boeing plans to add another 15 this year alone, as it delivers a targeted 110 airplanes, said Whittington. Boeing customers today operate roughly 300 flights per day and some 1,600 revenue flight hours. The fleet has now registered just over 100,000 revenue departures and more than 500,000 flight hours. Referring to the current 98.5-percent reliability rate, Whittington noted that the 787 has reached a point “pretty consistent” with other medium-sized twin-engine airplanes such as the 767 and Airbus A330.

“I think we’ll be well entrenched with the rest of the medium twins by the end of the year, and then headed to the 777 benchmark in the second quarter next year,” said Whittington. “Right now we’re about a percentage point behind [the 777].”

Whittington named spoiler control units and brakes as the top two delay drivers and nuisance messages as the third.

While different operators have experienced somewhat varied degrees of reliability, Whittington said the current 98.5-percent rate has become spread more consistently across the world fleet, which now exceeds 150 airplanes. “I will tell you it’s been a little mixed in our implementation,” he noted. “We see some airlines who do a very good job of being prepared for the airplane, and we’re doing a better job. Because of our learnings, we think we understand how best to get the airline ready to go…what they need at their ops stations and how we can support them.” As a result, he said, Boeing has seen new operators fly their first 100 days in revenue service without a delay. Others, of course, haven’t experienced the same level of success, largely because of the varying degrees of sophistication of their engineering departments. “There are less and more sophisticated airlines, and it certainly does make a difference,” conceded Whittington.