Dreamliner reliability is still short of the mark

Whether an aircraft is “available” to fly – whether a flight is scheduled or not –  is a measure – mainly – of the intrinsic soundness of that aircraft and its maintenance. The “dispatch reliability” of an aircraft or a type of aircraft is a composite measure of the performance of both the aircraft and the operator.

Aircraft availability and dispatch reliability and availability are two vital signs of any aviation operation. Availability refers to whether the aircraft is available for a flight, whether scheduled or not. An aircraft in for maintenance cannot be flown, and thus is not available. …. At its most basic, aircraft dispatch reliability accounts for whether the aircraft took-off on time and if not, why? If the dispatch performance and/or reliability of the aircraft is poor, then so is the level of service. …….

Scheduled airlines end up with an aircraft dispatch reliability percentage that is tracked and updated continuously. The goal for most airlines is a dispatch reliability rate in excess of 99%. Most data suggest that the large regional and major airlines achieve between 96-98%, with the most reliable carriers achieving 99-99.5% dispatch reliability. Both Boeing and Airbus claim high reliability rates. Recent press claims that the Airbus A330 exceeds 99% dispatch reliability and the latest Boeing 737 models are at 99.4%. Bombardier gives out awards to regional airlines that exceed 99% dispatch reliability with their Dash 8 turboprop and CRJ regional jets.

But as Boeing acknowledge themselves the Dreamliner is still falling short of the mark. One year on from the Dreamliner’s grounding for its battery problems, the issue is not yet fully resolved. Compared to the Boeing 777’s 99.4%, the Dreamliner is still struggling to get above 98%.

ReutersThe reliability of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is slowly improving but it is still not at a satisfactory level and the firm is working to improve the jet’s performance, Mike Fleming, Boeing’s vice president for 787 support and services said.

The Dreamliner’s reliability rate is now around 98 percent, meaning that two out of every 100 flights is delayed, above the 97 percent reported in October but still short of the firm’s target, Fleming told a news conference in Oslo.

“I’ll tell you that’s not where we want the airplane to be, we’re not satisfied with that reliability level of the airplane, the 777 today flies at 99.4 percent … and that’s the benchmark that the 787 needs to attain,” Fleming said. ……. 

Norwegian Air, the only European budget carrier to fly long haul, has been especially badly hit after a long string of breakdowns last year left passengers stranded around the world.

Norwegian has been particularly badly hit and have been pressing Boeing for solutions and (it is thought) some compensation. Norwegian’s whole strategy of becoming a long-haul, low-cost carrier is critically dependent upon the reliability of the Dreamliner. The shift from their very successful short-haul strategy to enter the long-haul market has had its share of criticism and Norwegian has no margins if the Dreamliner fails to meet its minimum performance requirements.

…. Glitches involving the Oslo-based carrier’s fleet of three Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets forced it to delay peak-period flights to Scandinavian cities from Bangkok, New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Norway’s air-travel complaints agency was inundated with calls from stranded passengers, and local media have ripped into the airline over the series of breakdowns. ….

Norwegian Air’s long-haul trials come with the company committed to one of the most ambitious expansion plans in the history of European aviation after it ordered 222 Boeing and Airbus Group single-aisle planes worth $22 billion in 2012 to help grab market share in its main short-haul discount market. 

Norwegian entered long-haul flying from Scandinavia to New York, Fort Lauderdale and Bangkok in 2013 and will add trips to Los Angeles, Oakland and Orlando this spring. It also aims to connect London Gatwick airport, Britain’s second-busiest, with New York, Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles starting in July. …..

Norwegian Air’s expansion plans leave little margin for error, with every delay causing a knock-on effect that may be hard to recover from, Stenshall said. In order to serve its three long-haul destinations planes must fly from the U.S. to Scandinavia and immediately on to Bangkok on what are effectively 16-hour trips, the analyst said.

The carrier said Tuesday that delivery of four more 787s in 2014 will provide “more flexibility,” and that the meeting with Boeing should enhance the response to technical issues which in some cases have “taken too long to fix.” 

The Herald of Everett carries a summary of the Dreamliner events during the last year:

Jan. 7, 2013: The lithium-ion battery system on a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 catches fire while the airplane is parked in Boston.


Jan. 11, 2013: The Federal Aviation Administration says it will conduct a review of the design of 787 electrical systems.


Jan. 16, 2013: The FAA grounds all 50 in-service Boeing 787s after a second battery-related incident prompted a precautionary landing by an All Nippon Airways plane in Japan.


March 15, 2013: Boeing explains how it will redesign the lithium-ion battery system on the 787. Planes remain grounded.


April 26, 2013: The FAA lifts the grounding order for 787s. Planes need to be retrofitted with the new battery system before flight.


April 27, 2013: Boeing 787 passenger service resumes at Ethiopian Airlines.


May 14, 2013: Boeing resumes delivery of new 787s, which have the new battery system installed in the factory.


May 20, 2013: United Airlines, the only U.S. operator of 787s, resumes Dreamliner passenger flights.


June 18, 2013: At the Paris Air Show, Boeing officially launches the 787-10, the biggest of the Dreamliner family.


July 12, 2013: An Ethiopian Airlines 787 parked in London catches fire, apparently caused by an off-the-shelf emergency locator beacon. The Dreamliner’s carbon-fiber fuselage sustains significant damage.


Sept. 17, 2013: First flight of the 787-9, the mid-sized Dreamliner.


Dec. 23, 2013: After two months of repair involving a carbon-fiber-composite patch, the Ethiopian 787 that burned in London re-enters service.


Jan. 7, 2014: Norwegian Air says it has pressed Boeing to resolve technical problems more quickly. A series of glitches stranded passengers. The carrier is using the Dreamliner exclusively to expand global service.


Jan. 13, 2014: A Japan Airlines 787, on the ground in Tokyo, vents gas from a malfunctioned lithium-ion-battery cell. The fix implemented earlier in the year worked, Boeing says.

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2 Responses to “Dreamliner reliability is still short of the mark”

  1. DK Says:

    You begin your post with a discussion of the difference between “dispatch reliability” and “dispatch availability”. Thank you: I think this is an important distinction that is being glossed over in the case of the 787.

    If a plane has a minor mechanical problem that delays a scheduled departure for 30 mins, that counts as one event for the purpose of calculating “dispatch reliability” (“DR”).

    If a plane has a mechanical problem that delays a scheduled departure, and requires that plane to be taken out of service for several days and replaced with another, that also counts as just one even for DR.

    If a plane is not scheduled to depart for several hours and suddenly catches fire, seriously damaging the plane and taking it out of service for several months, but another plane is able to replace it in time for the next scheduled flight, then there’s no event from a DR standpoint.

    The impact on “dispatch availability” (“DA”) is hugely different in each of the above cases. That last example applies to the Ethiopian Airlines 787 fire at Heathrow last July. That plane is finally airworthy again, but still not in commercial service 7 months later. ETH has just 5 787s. Having one of them out of service means DA can’t be higher than 80%, yet they could easily be showing a DR figure of 99%.

    Mature fleets nowadays show DRs north of 99%. The 787 is not quite there, but 97% doesn’t sound terrible. More importantly, the 787 is running a 60% DA versus mature fleet DAs of >90%. The difference in DAs is far more pronounced, a disaster for 787 customers, and is driven by high levels of unscheduled maintenance.

    Of course Boeing would like to talk about DR. It’s the DA that really matters long term, and it looks terrible

  2. ktwop Says:

    Thanks for your explanations. It was not clear to me from the Reuter’s report whether they were talking about DA or DR. I assumed they were just talikng about DR.

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