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Will New Woes Shake Flyers’ Faith in Boeing’s Dreamliner?

Hope may spring eternal, but patience doesn’t. And it may be that the patience of flyers has been stressed to the breaking point by the unnerving string of problems besetting Boeing’s highest-profile aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner.

In the latest blow to the high-tech plane’s credibility, an Ethiopian Airlines 787 parked at London’s Heathrow Airport caught fire on July 12, temporarily forcing the suspension of flights at one of the world’s busiest airports. And on the same day, a 787 operated by charter company Thomson Airways was forced to jettison its fuel and return to Manchester.

The causes of both incidents are under investigation.

The airlines have a vested financial interest in downplaying safety concerns associated with the new plane. As does Boeing. And both have been steadfast in their contention that the 787 is basically sound and safe.

And it seemed that travelers for the most part were willing to accept those assurances.

But on Sunday, a front-page New York Times article appeared under the headline “Airlines Confident in Boeing’s 787, but Doubts Linger”.

The question for consumers, of course, is whether those doubts are sufficiently pressing to book away from airlines flying the 787, or at least to make it a point to book flights operated with other planes.

The appearance of high-profile media articles referencing “doubt” in their titles is exactly the kind of development that could signal and promote a sea change in flyers’ attitude toward the 787.

We may, in other words, be at a tipping point, or at least close to one.

Chronology of Dreamliner Issues, Events

  • On April 29, Ethiopian Airlines resumed 787 operations with a flight between Addis Ababa and Nairobi, the first commercial flight since the planes were grounded in January.
  • On April 19, the FAA approved Boeing’s proposed redesign of the 787’s battery systems, including a modified battery and new enclosure that vents gas and smoke to the plane’s exterior.
  • On February 9 and 11, Boeing completed two test flights, using one of six 787 test planes specially fitted with electronic tools to monitor and diagnose battery-related issues. Both flights were “uneventful.”
  • On January 16, the FAA ordered all U.S. Dreamliners gounded until the safety issued could be sorted out. The move prompted a worldwide grounding.
  • On January 15, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines suspended all 787 flights following a battery malfunction that resulted in an emergency landing.
  • At least partly in response to the service suspensions by Japanese carriers, Qatar Airways cancelled a scheduled 787 flight from London to Doha.
  • On January 13, a fuel leak was discovered on a Japan Airlines 787 at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.
  • On January 11, the FAA announced that it would subject the 787 Dreamliner to an unusual post-launch “review.”
  • On January 7, a fire broke out on a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston.
  • A fire similar to the one in Boston had been reported during the 787’s testing phase in 2010.
  • In December, an electrical malfunction forced a United Airlines 787 to make an emergency landing.
  • Later that same month, United reported that the same issue had been discovered on a second Dreamliner.
  • Also in December, Qatar Airlines grounded one of its 787s because of electrical issues.
  • On December 5, the FAA ordered inspections of potential fuel-line leaks on all 787s.
  • About the 787 Dreamliner

    The Dreamliner is Boeing’s most advanced airliner, featuring such cutting-edge technology as lithium-ion batteries and a composite-plastic body.

    The first 787 was received by ANA in September 2011, and since then more than 50 787s have been delivered to 13 airline customers, including United.

    The company has taken orders for 930 Dreamliners, and Boeing hopes to sell as many as 5,000 during the lifetime of the plane.

    Reader Reality Check

    Where do you stand, today, on the safety of Boeing’s 787?

    Are you losing faith in the plane’s safety?

    This article originally appeared on

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