Among the many rumors circulating about the return of Boeing‘s 787 Dreamliner to the skies is one which involves the suspension of the ETOPS rating on the plane pending a significant number of flight hours to validate the proposed fixes. The plane entered service with certification to fly a long way from diversion airports; with the GE engines the rating was 330 minutes, more than 5 hours. And while the engines may still operate safely for that long there are concerns about the batteries and just how far from a diversion airport the planes should stray. Without any special ETOPS ratings the limit would be 60 minutes, roughly 400 nautical miles. That limits a lot of routes including many which the 787 was already flying or slated to operate. Here’s a map of (most of) the announced 787 routes showing 60 minute ETOPS blackout zones:
What is most surprising to me is actually how many of the routes DO work, even with this limitation in place. Service between North and South America has a couple small no-go zones but many routes would actually work pretty well. And any deviation from the optimal routings wouldn’t be too significant distance-wise. Between North America and Europe there is a path which allows for 60 minute ETOPS travel, crossing over the southern tip of Greenland as part of the trip. The route is already commonly used, especially eastbound to take advantage of the jetstream, though westbound traffic uses it less often. LOT’s Warsaw-Chicago route could make a go of it with minimal adjustments.
United Airlines‘ planned Denver-Tokyo route doesn’t quite work perfectly, but the diversion required to make it happen isn’t all that bad; Los Angeles to Tokyo would not work so well. And the east-bound versions of these flights typically fly much further south to take advantage of the prevailing winds.
Similarly, Qatar’s planned Europe service would be OK with minor deviations, as would Air India’s.
And most of the Asia service being run by JAL and ANA would be permissible. There are a few routes which will just not work. Houston-Lagos and Santiago-Madrid have chunks of the routes which won’t allow for easy adjustments to meet the non-ETOPS rules.
But, despite my concerns when I started reading about this last night, it seems that the 60 minute limit could actually still fly, so to speak.
No doubt that these “alternate” routes will affect the efficiency of the flights and will take away from the ability to realize the lower operating costs and other benefits that the 787 was supposed to bring to the airlines. That said, having the planes in the air is better than having them grounded. And if the rumored 250,000 hours of no-incident flying to regain ETOPS certification is true then these slightly longer routes might actually help get things back to normal sooner than not.
Assuming the batteries cooperate, of course.
With the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner now in its 6th week and looking to stretch into several months the long-term impact on flight schedules is starting to build up. With no certainty of the planes reentering service anytime soon airlines are extending route cancelations or aircraft swaps, depending on the circumstances. For United Airlines the groundings are affecting a number of routes, even those not scheduled to operate on the 787.
United has officially removed the 787 from their schedule through June 5, 2013 (or they will be with this weekend’s schedule updates). The only flight on the 787 expected earlier than that is Denver-Tokyo, a route which was supposed to launch on March 31; the new launch date for that route is May 12th, a delay of 6 weeks. And that date is soft, depending on the 787s getting back into service. Because United has other routes scheduled to be operated by the 787 which are now being operated with other planes the ability to continue expansion efforts are also impeded.
United’s flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo and Shanghai, as well as Houston to Lagos, Nigeria, will continue to operate, but with the 777 rather than 787s. Flights between San Francisco and both Paris and Taipei, both scheduled to start in the coming weeks, are pushed back. Paris service is now slated to begin April 26th and Taipei is expected to start June 6th; these dates are several weeks after the originally announced route launch dates.
For me, the delay on the DEN-NRT flight creates a personal problem for me: I was supposed to fly on the inaugural. United is being quite flexible on rebooking and reroutes, including positioning flights to Denver, and so I now have to decide what to do. I’m still inclined to get the new line and I’d still love to be on the inaugural. Plus, I think I can make the timing work with another event near Denver that weekend. So that’s probably what I’ll do. But I’m tempted to get creative on the way home, extending my mileage run. Maybe a routing via Honolulu? Or something else. Hong Kong or Singapore might be a bit too much, I think. I’d love to get the Island Hopper in there, especially since I’m on a B fare so upgrades would be easier, but I want to do that flight on the daytime, westbound version so that doesn’t work out for me. Any other suggestions??
The operational troubles with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner continue to grow. ANA reported yet another serious incident early Wednesday in Japan including an emergency landing on a domestic flight. The aircraft in question reported a warning with the battery system and pilots noted smoke in the cockpit. As a result of this latest incident – along with the multiple other recent issues with the type – ANA is grounding their fleet of 17 Dreamliners. JAL will be grounding their fleet of Dreamliners as well. It is not clear yet if other operators of the type will take similar actions.
These moves represent a tremendous blow to the type and its reputation amongst passengers and airlines. Other aircraft have had significant "teething issues" in their launch cycles as well; the issues with the 787 are not particularly unique in that regard. The A380 suffered a grounding early in its operation cycle, too. They had engine troubles and didn’t fly for a while at various times. And these days the A380 is flying just fine, at least it appears that way. And many types prior to the latest few have been in trouble near their launch, too. It isn’t really worth the time to go through all the other stories about troubles with new planes; they are there and they are real.
At the same time, however, it is worth considering the impact the news is having even on the most seasoned of travelers. Looking at the conversations online these days it seems that many passengers are starting to get cold feet. Thoughts like this are coming out more and more often:
I expressed a similar view a couple days ago, though with a slightly different angle:
At the core of the situation is the uncertainty. I know that there is a chance things won’t end safely when I get on the subway, get in a a cab or hop in the back of a jam-packed pickup truck to hurtle down the side of a hill at improbable speeds around crazy curves on a hill in Burma. And there is a chance I won’t land safely every single time I get on a plane. When I got on the inaugural 747-8i flight I was nervous. I was excited and happy and arguably giddy, but I was also nervous. Life involves taking risks, at least if you plan to live it. And I do take risks. But I generally like to know that at least someone has figured out roughly what the risks actually are. And that is pretty hard to be convinced of right now.
Boeing doesn’t really seem to have details on why they think these problems are surfacing now. Neither do any of the regulatory or investigating bodies. And that’s OK. Really. It is OK that there are problems with the plane. But that doesn’t mean it is OK (nor necessary) to continue using them to transport passengers and cargo. It has to be OK to take a break and figure out what is broken and how to fix it. Quite frankly, there is no need to continue taking the risk. There is no upside to such bravado.
The 787 will fly again. It will fly for a long, long time and millions of passengers will ultimately benefit from the many technologies it is introducing to the market. But it also is important that the operators understand how the plane is working and, where it is not working, why it is not working and how to fix it. There’s no prize for flying the most passengers when you’re not really sure why things aren’t working correctly on the plane.
A United Airlines flight from Houston to Newark made an emergency landing in New Orleans this morning after mechanical issues arose shortly after take-off. This is the first such diversion for United with the new aircraft. The plane, N26902, is the most recent Dreamliner delivered to the company from Boeing and has only been flying two weeks prior to this incident. Neither Boeing nor United are sharing details regarding the cause of the diversion or about what systems failed. There is some speculation that it is related to the electrical systems on the plane. Reviewing the ATC broadcasts from the event has the pilot confirming that to the tower at one point.
We’re going to have them look us over. We had an electrical malfunction.
My flight on the 787 a few days ago was delayed a couple hours for undisclosed "maintenance issues" so things are definitely not running smoothly for the 787 aircraft at United these days. That’s not too much of a surprise as they are learning the quirks of the new planes. But it is still unfortunate.
UPDATE: Listened to more ATC communications. Shortly before landing the pilot offered up these observations to the tower to share with the fire crew:
If, in fact, anything going on it’ll be the area right behind the wing. Rear of the wing back to the third door on each side, okay?
It’s behind the wing where the high load electrical stuff is about back to the rear cargo but we don’t anticipate anything. That’s just where he needs to be, so following us will be perfect.
Shortly after landing and after the fire department did an initial inspection the pilot requested a report looking for fire damage:
We need a visual inspection, make sure they don’t see discoloration or dripping plastic.
That area of the plane is where all the APU and other power distribution bits are housed. If there was a problem with the high-power lines overheating or drawing too much power and tripping a breaker that’s where it would be. I’m very interested to see how this plays out. Electrical issues on a plane are bad. Electrical issues on a plane which is actually mostly a computer which also happens to fly are really, really, really bad.
Not many budget carriers operate long-haul routes targeted at low-yield holiday destinations. Even fewer operate crew bases thousands of miles from their home base. Norwegian sees the market a bit differently; they’re challenging both of those trends.
The carrier has deliveries pending for Boeing‘s 787 Dreamliner with delivery expected in 2013. As part of the build up to those deliveries some details are starting to come out on how the company intends to use the planes. The initial routes will connect the airline’s operations in Oslo with Bangkok and New York City, both quite a bit longer than the current European coverage the carrier offers.
The plane will be configured 3-3-3 in economy class – similar to most other carriers – and 2-2-2 in business class. That there is a business class at all is somewhat surprising but for the longer flights it is not surprising that they see a market for such. They won’t be the flat beds offered by other carriers but most definitely a step up from the economy product. Paid food and beverage options will keep with the LCC approach. And there will be IFE on offer; it is not yet clear if that is a paid option or complimentary. The renderings also show power ports at the economy seats; pretty safe to assume that the premium seats will have the same.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Norwegian’s 787 operations, however, is how the company intends to staff the flights. In order to support the long-haul traffic a new crew base will be established. In Bangkok. Flight attendants interested in working for the carrier are being informed that, "Would you like to work in the cabin, you must agree also to move to Thailand." Such an approach has the obvious advantage of potentially saving a lot of money in employment costs. And that, along with the efficiency the 787 presents, might be enough to help the company thrive on the Oslo-Bangkok route, a market SAS is abandoning in 2013 after 63 years of service.
But such an approach also presents a number of challenges. For starters, there are the issues surrounding pissing off the other flight attendants who want the work to remain in Norway. Plus, what happens when a crew member has to call out? Having experienced the pain of a canceled flight recently due to a crew member getting sick while at an out-station, I’ve personally experienced that annoyance. So did roughly 600 others as the one missing flight attendant cascaded into at least three canceled flights.
Outsourcing jobs to save money is hardly a new phenomenon. The real question is whether Norwegian can operate reliably enough with such an approach. I suppose we’ll all find out starting the middle of next year.
United Airlines is facing the delays in delivery of their new 787 Dreamliners with more cuts to the previously announced schedule. The company initially expected to have two planes in service by this weekend, allowing them to operate eight daily flights with the new type. Instead they have only one. The good news is that the one received FAA authorization to operate in commercial service this week. But the delays in receiving the other planes are resulting in many schedule changes.
The previously announced changes only affected the domestic routes scheduled to operate through late November. Today’s expected change – again from the generally reliable @AirlineRoute – sees the scheduled service between Houston and Amsterdam on the cutting block. That service will now not be changed to the 787 until February 2013.
The delivery delays may still affect other routes the 787 is scheduled to fly on. Boeing is saying that they don’t expect any more delays in delivery, despite such a suggestion from a United spokesperson. Keep your eyes and ears open as the situation continues to develop.
UPDATE: Official statement from United online now:
As some of you have heard, there has been an unexpected delay with the delivery of additional 787 Dreamliner aircraft from Boeing. While many flights will continue to operate with the 787, this delay will result in some flights being operated by other aircraft in November and December. Specifically, here’s what this means:
- Our first 787 is continuing with pre-certification proving runs and is expected to enter commercial service Nov. 4 as scheduled. However, this year’s subsequent 787 deliveries are running behind schedule.
- This weekend United is updating our systems to reflect the different aircraft types flying in place of certain previously-published 787 flying.
- We will begin the process of notifying customers on the initial affected flights over the weekend, and will offer them the opportunity to re-book or receive a refund. These customers were given a special Reservations desk phone number to contact, which has been assigned to help them with this situation.
We’re just excited as many of you to introduce this 787 to our fleet, and we appreciate your patience with these unexpected schedule changes. To those of you whose travel plans are impacted, we’re very sorry for the inconvenience.
Remember how there were rumors of trouble brewing with the United Airlines 787 Dreamliner and getting it fully tested and into service in time for the previously announced service launch? Yeah, turns out those seem to be true.
The generally reliable @airlineroute account on twitter is reporting now that the one-time flights from Houston to Cleveland and Washington-Dulles will be scrapped. Additionally, the scheduled service to Newark, Los Angeles and San Francisco will see some substitutions.
My original plan to get on a United 787 was scrubbed when there was a schedule change, killing my connection in Houston. I have another scheduled (and upgraded!) flight at the end of the month which I figured was pretty much a sure thing. I’m less convinced of that right now but still hopeful.
Keep an eye out on the timetables with this weekend’s schedule changes. This time they’re actually real.
When United Airlines published schedules for their initial 787 service offerings there was great excitement. When they actually took delivery of the first aircraft it was a big deal, with media outlets covering it from many angles. Since that delivery there have been a number of test flights around the system, allowing the crews to continue their familiarization with the aircraft. It has also allowed the FAA to test the pilots on various operational aspects such as simulating a mechanical diversion or similar. And it has given the ground crews in many stations the ability to practice their jobs with respect to handling the aircraft.
It also seems to have exposed some issues with the aircraft and United’s ability to operate it reliably. When delays crop up on test flights it is easy to write them off as "other" events rather than indications of real problems. But the frequency of delays on these test flights, as well as other rumblings and rumors, suggest that all is not well in United 787 land. Indeed, delivery of the second aircraft has not yet occurred.
The rumors suggest that there are issues with the electronics in the aircraft. Given that the 767-300s being retrofit into 2-cabin international configs are also having electrical issues and that the two share IFE systems this is rather worrisome. There is also a story floating about in unofficial circles that the company had trouble getting the plane started at one station heading in to a test flight last week. That’s not particularly comforting either.
Hopefully the company manages to figure things out and can get caught up enough on the testing that they do not have to push the scheduled entry in service back from November 4th. The timetables have already been adjusted to add longer turn times for the aircraft, giving larger buffers for things to go wrong. If that’s not enough then there will be a lot of unhappy customers.
A couple 30-40 minute flights to small airports across Washington State might not seem all that significant but for United Airlines it means that they now are in possession of their first Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The company is the first operator in North America to take delivery of the type and the
fifth sixth world-wide. This weekend’s delivery is the first of five the airline expects in 2012 and the first of fifty currently outstanding orders.
The delivery process is playing out in several steps. First was the financial part of the deal which was completed on Saturday. That was followed by the flights on Sunday, marking the official delivery. But the big celebration is expected to come later this week when Boeing and United host a delivery event at Boeing Field, south of Seattle, before the plane flies on to Houston.
There is still a month or so of testing, internal certification and training pending before the aircraft goes in to commercial service; the first scheduled flights are set for November 4, 2012.
Photo courtesy of United Airlines.
It seems that there is a flight number out there for the delivery flight of the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner to United Airlines. Not sure how he noticed it but Stephan stumbled upon this gem today. Looking at the United flight status page there’s a scheduled operation from Boeing Field to Houston, likely the delivery route:
The flight number isn’t part of any assigned block for regular operations so that makes a bit of sense. And looking at the seat map it seems pretty clear that this is a 787, even though the website doesn’t have those details loaded in yet:
It is a bit surprising that 27A/L, the window seats at the exit row behind the wing, are not flagged as E+. I wonder if the escape slide protrudes too much into the legroom area for those seats to have extra space.
The plane doesn’t seem to be in the air yet. Normally the status site would show an actual departure time rather than just estimated if the plane is in the air. Plus none of the flight tracking sites I’ve checked have it showing. But this definitely sees United another step closer to taking delivery of the plane.