Nothing Routine About The 787


Several transport category aircraft have experienced diversions, been hit with airworthiness directives, or had teething problems made public in the last few days. The bet here is that most readers would be hard-pressed to name more than one.

Such is life these days for the Boeing 787, what with an in-service fleet size still below 40 and the reputation as a big deal even in the relatively big-deal world of new airliners.

It's too early to say whether yesterday's diversion of a United 787 due to an apparent electrical issue is a big deal in its own right or--as is more likely--just a spectacularly routine part of the model's maturation process. As of late today, the aircraft was still on the ground in New Orleans, Boeing said. There was no signs of fire in the aft electronics bay, nor any evidence of arcing in the bay's power panels. One of the plane's six electric generators failed and is being replaced, Boeing and United confirmed. There's no timetable on the plane's return to service, but Boeing said the fixes and checks should not take long.

Then there was today's immediately effective airworthiness directive and the (much more revealing) Nov. 25 Boeing Multi Operator Message that prompted the order. Both are probably nothing more than public unveilings of blips in Boeing's production process--albeit blips that led to at least 17 "occurrences" of improperly installed fuel feed manifold parts, including 15 on yet-to-be-delivered airframes.

At the risk of getting too technical here, suffice it to say that this stuff happens--all the time. 

Just this week, EASA issued an AD alerting operators to a mistake in the Saab A340B maintenance manual. It seems that, back when there was a factory making these birds, the plane's standard stick pusher maximum elevator position was set at 7.5 degrees trailing edge down. In the manual, the figure quotes a default elevator position of 4 degrees--correct for the Saab 340A, but not the B. It's not clear from the directive if the manual was changed at some point. If not, this goof-up has been on the books for 14 years since the last Saab 340B rolled off the production line. Talk about lingering teething problems....

Yesterday, an Iberia A321 reportedly returned to Heathrow following an engine failure on climb-out. Several thousand miles west, a SkyWest CRJ 700 experienced an in-flight shutdown en route to Santa Ana from Denver and diverted to Grand Junction. 

The bet here is not much was written about any of these incidents, and not much will be outside of the most hardcore aviation trade pubs. Unless, of course, it comes out that one of these incidents is the tip of a significant airworthiness iceberg. 

Right now and for the foreseeable future, when it comes to incidents involving the current darling of the skies, the exact opposite is true.

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