We at Supply Chain Matters really did not want to follow-up so soon on our recent commentaries related to the ongoing shake-out and component failure issues related to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, but alas, they unfortunately continue.

The implications also continue.

Yesterday, a 787 Dreamliner operated by Japan Airlines caught fire while on the ground at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Fortunately, all passengers had deplaned from a 13 hour nonstop flight from Tokyo, while ground crews were making preparations for a return flight.  The fire was traced to the aft electrical equipment bay and was believed to originate in the aircraft’s auxiliary power system, where a lithium ion battery later exploded, causing a secondary fire.  The batteries housed in the APS makeup the aircraft’s emergency power system and also serve to start-up auxiliary power systems when the aircraft is on the ground. Fire crews reported a heavy smoke condition upon arrival. CNN’s coverage (video included) quotes a vise president with the Flight Safety Foundation as noting that the fire was an extremely serious situation.

The National Transportation Safety Board along with Boeing and JAL, have immediately dispatched teams to investigate this incident.  The subject aircraft remains grounded and speculation abounds as to whether safety authorities will call for more directives regarding the 787.

In its reporting, The Wall Street Journal noted that the subject aircraft was part of the group of 7 Dreamliners delivered during a 25 hour period in late December, and was delivered to JAL on December 20.

Business and general media have been quick to now begin to relate all the previous component failure incidents related to the 787 dating back to the 2010 fire caused on a test flight.  Since Supply Chain Matters resides in Greater Boston area, we were able to take-in local media coverage of this incident.  Many local stations hyped the increased history of incidents, especially with an aircraft as new as it is, and questioned whether the aircraft was really safe to fly. Needless to state, that does not result in a good perception for the flying public to have regarding any new aircraft.

While it is common for any new aircraft model to have some initial issues, the troubling aspect for the 787 is the variety of different problems, which have included incidents of fuel leaks, engine component failures and multiple issues related to the aircraft’s critical electrical systems. Four recently delivered 787 aircraft have incurred electrical failures including the failure of a generating unit and problems with the electrical panel. In early December, a new 787 delivered to United Airlines, flying an operational route, had to make an emergency landing because of an electrical generator failure. Another United 787 delivered in October had to be literally taken out of service in order to replace suspected power panel and generator concerns. In July, both Rolls Royce and GE Aircraft engine types supplied with this aircraft had separate incidents of engine faults. Many of these issues seem to point toward component, manufacturing or assembly issues sometime along the way.

In our view, Boeing needs to stop the ongoing public statements indicating that the recent histories of incidents relative to the 787 are normal course of events for a newly delivered aircraft.  Instead, we need to hear what proactive measures are being taken to insure that all of these incidents are thoroughly and speedily investigated and what remediation efforts will be taken.

Component suppliers and members of the 787 global supply chain will have to anticipate further scrutiny of processes and methods until all of these issues are resolved.

Bob Ferrari