Japan Airlines is bringing the dream to Sydney.


Pushing ahead with it’s 787 expansion, Japan Airlines will be the first international airline to introduce Boeing 787 services to Sydney. Operating the daily JL771/772 service from Tokyo Narita, the Boeing 787-8 will replace the Boeing 777 currently operated from December 1.

Three months after the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was grounded in late-January, the aircraft and programme are back in the air. With safety fixes for the aircraft’s battery system approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines are bursting with renewed confidence in the besieged programme and planning the aircraft’s re-entry into service on routes around the globe.

Both Japan’s All Nippon Airlines (ANA) and JAL each suffered separate fire incidents in the 787′s lithium-ion battery, and are now working to restore the Japanese public’s confidence in the aircraft before they resume services on June 1. Over the next few weeks both carriers plan to undertake more than 200 test flights for pilot training and battery system verification demonstrating to the public the safety of the aircraft.

With the arrival of the 787 into the Australian market imminent, airlines will soon have a host of new operational opportunities into the country. Initially for JAL, the substantial product upgrade, but capacity downgrade of the 787 reduces available seat capacity on the Tokyo – Sydney route by 24%; instantly improving Qantas capacity share and competitiveness on a market that has struggled since its 1997 peak.  However, the economics of the 787-8 provides the potential to introduce new routes and improved schedules to destinations across Asia and beyond, encouraging growth and allowing markets to mature with the potential to increase capacity with the 787-9 from sometime after 2016. Up-gauging to an aircraft with a similar operating cost, but significantly increased capacity also delivers airlines greater pricing flexibility, to stimulate even more demand through lower fares or the ability to extract higher margins from operations.

The unprecedented level of regulatory and developmental scrutiny afforded the 787 will ultimately deliver an exceptionally safe next generation aircraft. There may be some initial tepidness from passengers in booking on the 787, but ultimately the romance of a revolutionary aircraft will draw them back. It’s been a long wait, but the 787 is almost here.

Carry-on will be flying on the inaugural Sydney service, bringing you all the excitement of the day. Stay tuned.

Boeing’s full page すみません (apology). Image: Yoshiaki Miura, Japan Times.

What’s next for the 787?

The media loves fire on an aircraft. Fire scares people. Scaring sells news. Unfortunately, this comes to the detriment of Boeing and the 787 programme, which have faced intense scrutiny by media over a range of minor to hazardous issues, that question the safety of the aircraft.

The Boeing 787-8 suffered a series of incidents over the period, several of these a cracked windshield, minor fuel leak and brake issue are common operational issues. The FAA’s Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD) issued today focuses on the electrical architecture of the aircraft, specifically the safety of the GS Yuasa lithium-ion polymer battery, which has led to several incidents consistently traced back to the same issue:

04DEC2012 – United Airlines UA1146 diverted enroute due to an electrical malfunction. Multiple error messages, with flight crew requesting firefighters be vigilant of fuselage aft of wing area upon touchdown.

13DEC2012 – Qatar Airways grounded one of its 787 fleet due to an electrical fault upon arrival in Doha. CEO Akbar Al Baker wasn’t happy, jumped up and down, and shook his fists at Boeing.

17DEC2012 – United Airlines identifies a second electrical issue in a separate 787 to 04DEC incident.

07JAN2013 – Japan Airlines 787 JA829J suffered an incident on the ground at Tokyo Narita, in which smoke filled the cabin, and aft cargo compartment as a result of the APU battery in the rear electrical bay catching fire.

16JAN2013 – All Nippon Airlines (ANA) 787  JA804A operated NH692 diverted to Takamatsu when the crew received battery problem indications, and detected an acrid, burning smell in the cockpit. The aircraft was evacuated on landing.

Aviation safety regulators in India, Japan, Poland, Qatar and Chile have suspended 787 operations for an indefinite period, with Ethiopia and Europe’s EASA likely to follow suit.

The location of the Lithium Ion batteries in the Boeing 787-8. Image: Boeing ARFF Data.

Following the commencement of the regulatory review earlier this week, the FAA has determined that “the battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke” there is sufficient enough risk of onboard fire, or other electrical issues, to cease the programme. An investigation already initiated by the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB), will now widened and led by the FAA, supported by Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB) and Boeing.

Why in the first instance did the FAA allow the aircraft to continue to fly after announcing the safety review?  Why was the FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, so emphatic in saying the 787 was safe after he had announced a review, and before the NTSB had concluded an investigation?

NTSB photo of the aft Lithium Ion battery following the fire on the JAL 787 in Boston. Image: NTSB.

During its certification period and the aircraft’s first 15 months in service the 787 has suffered ongoing problems related to its electrical system. The first aircraft to support fully electric architecture, this replaces pneumatic bleed air systems used to drive cabin pressure and onboard systems, and operates at a significantly higher capacity 1.5MW than any other aircraft.

To support these systems the 787 requires a battery that can efficiently produce enough energy, and currently only less-stable Lithium Ion polymer batteries offer that capability. Overheating or overcharging the battery creates ignitable metallic lithium.

After years of testing the batteries were approved by the regulator with special conditions, and demonstrated assurances that the system would could isolate and shutdown the batteries in this instance, and inflight fire would be contained. Yet the system safeguards failed to prevent either incident incident in Japan.

Navigating in uncharted territory.

Is the 787 programme a disaster? Certainly not, the 787 like the A380 is technological leap in the way aircraft are designed, built and flown. And, every revolution has its problems, see Airbus A380, Boeing 747, Comet, Viscount.

These aircraft all suffered significant problems following their Entry Into Service (EIS). Who remembers the 747 having significant engine problems? All were eventually rectified. It is part of the natural development of aircraft that changes are made, and redesigns worked in, and changes made again. The number of Airworthiness Directives in worldwide circulation for all aircraft types demonstrates this.

With proven operational experience no customer is yet to cancel their orders over this incident, and none are likely too. Airlines awaiting imminent deliver of aircraft will be temporarily inconvenienced, Akbar Al Baker may jump up and down, and Boeing’s reputation will take another hit, but that doesn’t mean they lack faith in the aircraft’s future. The more resources pushed into engineering the 787 now, the better it will become.

As with the DC-10 and the A380 after QF32, it’s no surprise travellers will book away from the 787 for a period of time, concerned about reliability. But they will come back, they have loved the 787 to date. With this level of regulatory and developmental scrutiny we’re going to end up with an exceptionally safe next generation aircraft. It’s a matter of when, not if that happens.

The full statement from the FAA. Boeing’s full statement on 787 action.

This paper is excellent background reading on the FAA’s only other commercial grounding of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10.



FAA issues Airworthiness Directive Ground Boeing 787

The following is the FAA’s initial statement on its order for operators to temporarily cease Boeing 787 operations. We will develop this story as the day goes on:

“As a result of an in-flight, Boeing 787 battery incident earlier today in Japan, the FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations.  Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe.

“The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.The in-flight Japanese battery incident followed an earlier 787 battery incident that occurred on the ground in Boston on January 7, 2013. The AD is prompted by this second incident involving a lithium ion battery.

“The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two Model 787 airplanes. The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment.Last Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems with the possibility of further action pending new data and information.

“In addition to the continuing review of the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft’s certification.

“United Airlines is currently the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service. When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, it also alerts the international aviation community to the action so other civil aviation authorities can take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.”

Click here for more coverage on the 787 EAD action.

British Airways: “Down under’s not over”

There’s a great modernity about British Airways’ simple but stylish Australian newspaper advertisement. Taking a subtle, cheeky swipe at Qantas following the ending of the Joint-Service Agreement in favour of Emirates, British Airways is keeping calm and carrying on.

BA will upgrade all its Australian services to new B777-300ER aircraft from March 30, 2012. Timed to match the commencement of the Qantas Emirates partnership, the introduction of the aircraft with upgraded long-haul product, and BA’s shift of Australian services from London Heathrow’s T3 to its T5 hub marks another competitive upgrade in the fierce Australian international market.

The move is part of BA’s renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region. BA will commence five weekly services to Seoul from next month, and three weekly services to Chengdu from September 2013. In addition, BA is likely to recommence schedules to Kuala Lumpur and Taipei, markets the carrier exited in 2001, as well as new services to additional cities in mainland China.

British Airways served Taipei from London and Hong Kong as British Asia Airways (英亚航空) until 2001. British Asia Airways was incorporated to overcome a now overturned Chinese Central Government policy prohibiting national carriers serving mainland China from serving Taiwan. Image: Daryl Chapman.

There is also nothing delicate about British Airways’ new oneworld push. For many years oneworld has been quiescent, foundering without a meticulous leader as Star Alliance has in Lufthansa. But the signs are this has changed, limited by expansion options at London Heathrow, British Airways and its parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) are making an active effort to engage and mold oneworld into an entity that supports BA’s sustainable growth and underlying business goals.

British Airways has already formed a comprehensive JV partnership with oneworld member and long-time Qantas partner Japan Airlines, and invited Qatar Airways to join oneworld in 2013/14. Could BA’s Asian focus see the airline engage Malaysia Airlines in place of Qantas to expand in South-East Asia?

A British Airways led quadruple entente would secure a network between Australia and Asia to Europe covering all major traffic paths via Northern and South-East Asia and through the Middle East. Image: GCMapper and Carry-ON.

Malaysia Airlines has much to offer BA, with a South-East Asian network, services to every major Australian city, and code sharing agreements with Japan Airlines, as well as oneworld members-to-be Qatar Airways and SriLankan Airlines already in place. To leverage this through an alliance or a comprehensive JV between the three carriers opens up incredible network and traffic flow options as the map shows. The grouping would be well placed to gain a formidable position in the growing high yield markets driven by Asia’s growing middle class, and provide substantial traffic feed into BA’s long haul network in Asia, and connections to BA short haul services across Europe.

oneworld is on the brink of change, and British Airways is now firmly at the helm. Tally ho.

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