LAN Airlines is another of the early 787 operators affected by the issues. LAN Vice President Engineering and Maintenance Sebastian Acuto says grounding of the 787 “has affected the learning curve for everybody.” He acknowledges that while reliability has already improved “quite significantly, we are still not where we want it to be.” According to Acuto, the average dispatch reliability for the total in-service 787 fleet is at 97.5% and LAN's fleet is at 97.1%. That compares to a dispatch reliability target set by Boeing of 99.2% two years after entry into service. “It is going to take a little bit longer” to reach that, Acuto says.
LAN is working with Boeing to eliminate the root causes and “the great majority of the root causes, are already identified,” he explains. Both are now working on implementing modifications. The issues faced by LAN have been changing, and Acuto sees that as “good news” as it shows that Boeing has been able to eliminate some of them.
However, there are recurring problems affecting the flight control system and the air conditioning. Very often the system is showing messages that crews have to deal with on the ground prior to departure. “Most of the time there is nothing behind it, but you still have to deal with it,” Acuto says. He believes that the solution is “a combination of hardware and software, but a lot of it has to do with upgrading the software.” LAN's challenge is not made any easier by the fact that the airline is starting to deploy the aircraft to more stations and is now flying the Santiago-New York and the Santiago-Madrid-Frankfurt routes.
Structurally and from most of the systems' perspective, the experience is better, says Jenks. “Structures, ducting, tubing and so forth have performed very well. We've had severe lightning strikes and vehicles have hit the fuselage, and fundamentally the structure has worked out phenomenally well. We are getting fewer 'ramp rash' [collisions and damage from ground vehicles and servicing trucks] issues than we expected.” However, increasing the robustness of some areas, particularly electric components, remains a key focus, says Jenks. “There are more of these issues than we want, and we are very energized to fix it. But none of them are things that would have us rethinking the fundamental architecture. The bottom line is it is not flawed and it is working well.”
Many of the improvements will roll straight into the development of the 787-10, Jenks notes. “With the -10 we are up and running. It is fortunate now, because the timing allows us to transfer many of the team working on the -9 to the -10. Lots of the team learned the initial lessons on the -8, and the -10 is fundamentally a much simpler job. That's the beauty of it.” With systems, weight and overall technology derived straight from the -8 and perfected on the -9, the -10 is “just a simple stretch,” he adds. “It's all about maximizing commonality.” The airframe will be stretched by a further 18 ft. in length over the -9 and the overall configuration has already been essentially firmed up, Jenks says.
Flight tests of the 787-9 meanwhile stepped up to a new rate on Nov. 19 when the third 787-9, ZB021, joined the certification program. The aircraft is the first GEnx-1B-powered 787-9 and enters flight test on the heels of ZB002, the second Rolls-powered aircraft, which began tests on Nov. 7. The third 787-9 will be used for low-speed aerodynamic performance work, as well as brake, flutter and GE-related propulsion performance testing. The second aircraft is targeted at autoland, avionics, fuels and propulsion tests, as well as evaluation of the environmental control and nitrogen-generating systems. By mid-November the test fleet was quickly approaching more than 200 flight hours and more than 65 flights since the start of tests on Sept, 17. The -9 derivative is 20 ft. longer overall than the baseline 787-8, and will be available with either the newly-certificated “Package C” version of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 or the upgraded “PIP II” variant of the General Electric GEnx-1B.