LAN Airlines is reaching the initial in-service reliability target of the Boeing 787 two years after it took delivery of its first aircraft. 

While the airline has seen significant improvements over time, LAN’s Vice President-Line Maintenance Network Sebastian Domenech says that “we are still far from our long term objectives and expectations. We still have a hard road to improvement on which we expect to continue to receive full support from Boeing.”

Across all operators, the aircraft passed the 100,000 revenue departures milestone earlier this year and has carried 20 million passengers thus far. Dispatch reliability is now running at 98.5% on a three-month moving average. 

“We are getting into an area which is pretty consistent with other medium twins (767/A330 class),” Boeing 787 Chief Project Engineer Bob Whittington told Aviation Week in July. Most days, the rate is “running just under 99%, so the reliability is coming up on the aircraft. We spend a lot of time so we can get to where the customer expects, which is the 777.” 

The bigger twin “sets the benchmark, and that’s where we are headed. We will be well entrenched with the rest of the medium twins by midyear and headed to Boeing 777-benchmark probably by the second quarter of 2015. Right now we are about 1% behind,” Whittington said.

Late in 2013, the average dispatch reliability for the total in-service 787 fleet was at 97.5%, still significantly lower than the 99.2% dispatch reliability target set by Boeing for two years after entry into service.

LAN Airlines is currently flying its 787s an average of 11-hours and 1.6-sectors per day on routes from Santiago de Chile to New York, Buenos Aires and Madrid and Frankfurt. The carrier introduced the aircraft on the Santiago-Cancun and Santiago-Punta Cana routes earlier this month. It is replacing Boeing 767-300ERs and Airbus A340s. LAN operates the 787s in a 247 seat-configuration, including 30 seats in business class. The carrier has chosen a nine-abreast configuration in economy.

LAN concedes it was late in implementing some Boeing-planned improvement, “because we underestimated the demand of man-hours that the reliability issues of the fleet would generate.” A large amount of the improvements were finally incorporated in March and April, when LAN took each of its five aircraft down for ten days, instead flying a five aircraft-schedule with four jets. Among the changes were 45 service bulletins. 

LAN also replaced all auxiliary power units (APUs), and changed the hydraulic fluid and adapted the braking system, among others.

Having to operate on a tight schedule affected reliability during the down time period, LAN concedes, but at the end of the period LAN now sees an “improved 787 fleet that is having fewer problems.”

According to Domenech, one of the issues the airline had to face was a high number of spurious messages with no real problem behind them. Domenech says that was caused by the complexity of self-diagnostic tools in the aircraft and the software was “not quite mature. Depending on the types of messages that we get, it could take up to 40 minutes or more to clear them, and this caused us many delays.”

However, he adds, “fortunately, due to software upgrades that have been implemented, this problem has been lessened significantly. In addition, our technicians are also improving their skills and are able to deal with these messages more easily, which also reduces the operational impact.

Once all the pending improvements of the LAN 787 fleet are completed, LAN plans to enter the local certification process for ETOPS services beyond 180 minutes. Domenech expects to complete the process in the first quarter of 2015 in order to be able to launch longer-haul Boeing 787 routes thereafter.

LAN currently operates six 787-8s. It plans to fly 10 by the end of 2014 and 17 by the end of next year, with a mix of 787-8s and -9s.