Dreaming about the Dreamliner

“There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m dreaming the hardest.”
― Marilyn Monroe

Maybe there are a lot of dreamers out there. And maybe nobody is dreaming harder than amped and jittery Boeing. Maybe dreaming so hard that the 787 Dreamliner can’t bear to let them down. Not again.

With haiku-like intensity the Dreamliner was grounded in Japan. (What else could they do after that emergency landing on Shikoku?) There was a cruel battery fire or two in Boston, messy fuel leaks on takeoffs, smelly smoke in the cockpit, even a battle-tested cracked windshield. There’s rock-solid background in The Gate chronicling these assaults from the back of the class.

I’ll bet there were late-night TV jokes with Dreamliner punch lines in your face like a bad marriage. I imagine something like “assembly required, buy the floor model.” Comedy can do that until something really bad happens.

But like I said, there are a lot of dreamers out there. Qatar Airways have three 787 Dreamliners in service, with an order for 57 more. The chief exec thinks the burned-out parts and grounding of the 787 by Japan’s two major carriers reflects “teething problems”. [UPDATE: Within 12 hours, by Friday afternoon at Heathrow, Dreamliners’ teeth hurt bad enough to ground a Qatar flight. United. Boeing. The FAA. They’re all in this game, too. But no word. Not yet.]

It’s worth remembering glitches are common when new wings take to the sky. It happened with Airbus and vintage Boeing jets before the now uncountable long, seemingly motionless flights of these aircraft. There is no knowledge worth the name that doesn’t come from experience, goes the adage. To some aviation experts this Dreamliner puppy piddle looks like a mix of here-we-go-again and never-seen-this-before. Grounding is the mother of invention in aviation.

The Dreamliner teethes cutting-edge flight in a whole lot of light-year-ahead ways. It’s choked full of carbon fiber reinforcement with a pickup full of cotton-candy electronics replacing a dump truck full of hydraulics. Even the brakes happen in the nerve stem of electronics. It sucks juice. And overcharged new lithium-ion batteries are suspect in a fire or two.

Our own FAA had the jet under its microscope for eight years before giving thumbs up in August 2011. Everyone is on the same team here, including the two Japanese carriers enforcing the grounding. Everyone shares the same Dreamliner. By the end of last year, Boeing delivered 49 with orders for 848 more Dreamliners. They hope to sell 5,000 in 20 years.

Last week, the FAA was touting the safety of the 787 ten ways to Sunday at a Boeing new conference. Back in reality and hoping to add oxygen, the action-is-virtue FAA announced a review of the Dreamliner while monitoring the jet’s day-in-day-out performance, looking beyond where the 787 is to where it wants to go.

Don’t touch that dial. Stay tuned. Would a frequent flyer ever bet against Boeing?

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