More adventures of the Boeing Firebird

By Tim Raetzloff | Jul 15, 2013

Early July has been difficult for the Boeing Company Commercial Aviation.

On July 6, a Boeing 777 owned by Asiana Airlines crashed on landing at San Francisco.

July 12, a Boeing 787 owned by Ethiopian Airlines caught fire while sitting at Heathrow Airport near London. That same day a Thomson Airways 787 aborted a flight from Manchester to Florida for "mechanical reasons."

Other reports about less serious incidents surfaced in the aftermath.

Early reports on the 777 crash in San Francisco indicate that this was not the fault of the airplane. It appears that human error was the biggest contributor to the crash.

This crash included the first fatalities of 777 passengers after more than five million cumulative hours in the air for the 777 over nearly two decades.

This time the plane wasn't at fault. The 777 has been, statistically, the safest commercial airliner of all time. I would still happily ride one anywhere.

The 787 fire at Heathrow is another matter. Boeing has been quick to point out that the investigators say this was not a battery problem.  I think Boeing would have been better off if it were a battery problem.

Replacing lithium ion batteries with ni-cad would solve the battery problem for good. That is the route that AirBus chose with its new A350.  Boeing wants to stay with lithium ion rather than admit a mistake.

The battery isn't the problem. What then is?

This is the second Boeing 787 that has caught fire on the ground this year. Ground fires are not completely unheard of, I can think of two others in the last five years or so, but it is remarkable that the 787, with only 60 or so in the air, has doubled the total number of ground fires in just six months.

Is it chance, or is something seriously wrong with the 787?  This fire burned all the way through the skin of the airplane, and we must wait to learn whether the plane can even be fixed.

Time may answer what caused the fire, although, six months later, we still don't know what caused the battery fires on the 787.

There is mystery about what is really wrong with the 787.

Unlike the 777 I have no desire to ride a 787 anywhere.

Boeing has one other problem. UK investigators control the Heathrow inquiry. Boeing probably cannot control the inquiry as it clearly did in Boston earlier this year.







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