Let’s Stop Freaking Out About The Dreamliner


Despite the fact that aviation is safer than it has been in many decades, news of problems with Boeing’s new Dreamliner have filled the news and created panic.

I’m honestly not surprised at the level of concern people have about the Dreamliner. It’s a very new airplane that people have limited experience with. It’s being reported to have problems, and a fire is quite serious (the NTSB is investigating). At the same time, people need to stop freaking out about the Dreamliner and let the system work out its problems.

The most important element in all of these problems is that no flights were threatened as a result of the incidents. Not one. The fuel leak and oil leak were discovered on the ground; the fire was after landing. The crack was a crack in one of five layers of glass. The engine cracks were discovered before they became structural failures. The system works: problems are discovered, they’re corrected, and nobody gets hurt.

As an aircraft owner I understand the intrinsically challenging nature of aircraft maintenance. I flew for a month on one or more dead cylinders before my annual; that was surely a safety concern when it came to climb performance and density altitude. The results of an engine failure could have been catastrophic. But these systems are designed to run even with some margin for failure because of the potentially catastrophic nature of total failure.

Airplane certification is equally rigorous. The FAA would not have certified the Dreamliner if they were not sure it would be safe in flight. The present safety record of Dreamliners proves the point: they’ve all successfully landed after departure. This is a perfect safety record and it will only get stronger the more the aircraft flies.

New aircraft have quirks and challenges. Testing finds many of these problems, but it can’t find all of them; real life use of an aircraft is the only way to truly understand where, how and why it will have failures. The inherent imperfection in the testing and certification process, together with the fact that the FAA and the industry are committed to safety, is why there’s an airworthiness directive and service bulletin program. Boeing will fix these issues, and they will issue the appropriate directives and bulletins to have the issues resolved.