787 update

Victoria
By Victoria March 5, 2013 11:39

787 update

As we mentioned here in December 2012 and January 2013, the problem with the 787 is that airlines marketed the aircraft directly to customers. Firms that had proudly advertised the 787 as being the mode of transport from May 2013 had to take down the promotional signs from windows just before Christmas.

On the UK high street we were obviously talking about Thompson Airways, which today announced that it has a dedicated customer service team in the process of contacting all customers impacted to inform them that they will now be travelling on 767 aircraft. The problem is that Thompson had been charging supplement payments for holiday bookings made on the 787. Now they have to refund the same and offer a full refund of the entire holiday, they cannot take the risk that the aircraft will not be ready for them, even though it may still be ready.

Boeing is either unwilling or unable to confirm delivery dates to Tui (Thompson) and yet British Airways, which is due to take delivery in May 2012, has not yet been informed of any delays to date.

The 787 was only the second aircraft to be marketed in this way, the first being the A380. This is a blow and a shame for the market as tour operators will be far more wary in future when making similar offers.

More importantly however is the longer-term impact of the 787 problems on the certification process. Eight years ago the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would no longer directly manage routine inspections of design and manufacturing. Instead, it would focus on overseeing a self-policing program executed by the manufacturers themselves through more than 3,000 of their employees assigned to review safety on behalf of the FAA (the DERs or designees).

It is likely though that the 787 problems will put renewed urgency on the FAA to re-think a policy that has Boeing doing 95% of its own inspections with very little outside verification going on. Now the FAA is looking at what tests were done and who was certifying those tests on the 787, it is time to ask – After eight years does the FAA have the right people in the right place with the right expertise to second guess designs seeking certifications, and with government cuts ramping up in the US will they be able to meet possible demands that may come from all this in the future? The FAA policy of policing the system, as it does currently, depends on communication at all times between it and the manufacturers, which all parties says works well. Boeing has a separate group within the company to do the FAA work. Those employees approve the design of the aircraft with key steps and the final “type certificate” for new aircraft, being rubber stamped by the FAA.

In this age of rapid technology change should there be an additional layer of independent FAA certification that draws specialist scientific knowledge into the frame? Maybe our testing methods have been overtaken by technology and if that is the case what does it mean for safety and insurance premiums?

Also in the news: Keep an eye on Korean Airlines as it closes in on CSA in what looks to be a good deal for the APAC carrier.

Victoria
By Victoria March 5, 2013 11:39
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