Has Boeing’s 787 Disaster Dealt A Blow To Energy Efficient Aircraft?

Written By: Thatcher Michelsen February 1, 2013 0
Boeing's new 787 has been grounded due to mechanical failures that led to a battery fire.
Boeing's new 787 has been grounded due to mechanical failures that led to a battery fire.

On January 16, a mysterious burning smell aboard a brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliner forced the airplane to make an emergency landing in Japan. The culprit was an auxiliary lithium-ion battery that had begun to burn. An investigation into the issue led to the release of numerous details, including prior concerns about the battery’s ability to hold a charge and prevent itself from overheating. Due to the many answers still being sought by U.S. and Japanese inspectors, 787 fleets around the globe are being grounded indefinitely.

As one might expect, this month as been both a public relations and technological disaster for Boeing. According to U.K.-based newspaper The Guardian, CEO Jim McNerney feels “deep regret” over the controversy and has pledged resources to a full internal audit of the battery’s problems. However, it might be some time before the 787 takes flight once again. Another long-term issue may be that efforts to create energy-efficient aircraft – a goal that the Dreamliner was meant to represent – may be stymied for some time.

Aerospace experts speaking with the source pointed to Boeing’s failure to contain problems that develop as a result of outsourced manufacturing. The components that make up the Dreamliner come from a variety of subsidiaries and associate companies worldwide, a structure that leaves little time for overhead maintenance and supervision. Robert Mann, a former executive in the American airline industry, told The Guardian that federal regulators may have felt pressure to speed up the approval process.

“There’s leading edge and there is bleeding edge,” Mann said during the interview. “There were so many innovations on this plane that it is hard to fathom how it got approved so quickly. Thankfully, no one was hurt.”

Will the Dreamliner’s failure set back eco-friendly airplanes? At this stage in the investigation, it’s tough to say. Stay with the LifeIsGreen.com blog for more updates on this important and controversial topic. 

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