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HindustanTimes Wed,22 Oct 2014

AI’s Dreamliner nightmares: Cracked windshields, equipment failures, snags

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, March 02, 2014
First Published: 23:51 IST(2/3/2014) | Last Updated: 02:04 IST(3/3/2014)

The unending glitches that are plaguing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which national carrier Air India (AI) is counting on to turn around its fortunes, is giving it sleepless nights instead.

According to aviation ministry records, between September 2012, when the aircraft was inducted into AI’s fleet, and November 2013, the 787 suffered 136 technical problems.

Since November 2013, the number of snags has in fact spiralled, prompting the civil aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), on Friday to summon a team of officials from the US plane-maker and tell them to fix the problem on priority basis.

DGCA sources said the 787 has suffered 44 major engineering snags since its induction in AI -- 30 in 2013, 13 this year and one in 2012. This includes three cracked windshields, seven flight control issues, six landing gear troubles, four navigation snags and nine instances of equipment failure.

Air India had ordered 27 Dreamliners in 2005 in the hope that the aircraft’s reputed fuel-effiency would help the company, which has been surviving on taxpayer money, turn around its fortunes. However, it got its first plane only in September 2012. And within months, overheating batteries prompted regulators worldwide to ground the entire 787 fleet in January 2013. Flights resumed only in April.

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While both Boeing and AI have maintained there are no safety issues with the aircraft, aviation ministry and AI officials have said on many occasions that the planes that they got were not exactly what had been promised.

Kiran Rao, executive vice president at Boeing’s arch rival Airbus, told HT in an interview in 2011 that Dreamliners were heavy, burned more fuel and were five years too late.

Boeing and AI did not reply to mails from HT seeking comments for this story.

Boeing has reportedly offered Air India $23 million (about Rs. 145 crore) as compensation for the 787 not turning out as fuel efficient as promised, and for the losses that the national carrier suffered due to the aircraft’s grounding.

“We expect the 787’s operational challenges to continue for next few months,” said Kapil Kaul, South Asia CEO of consultancy firm Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. “Air India’s financial performance has significantly improved post the 787 induction and further improvement is expected after the entire fleet operates without operational challenges.”

“The Boeing 787 is strategically critical for Air India’s turnaround plans,” he added. “Boeing may need to do more to ensure operational issues are sorted out at the earliest.”

“Sure, the 787 has had tech issues… but when was the last time AI was an early launch customer for a revolutionary airplane? Never!” said Saj Ahmad, a London-based aviation analyst.


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