Will a New Boeing 787 Monitoring System Put Flyers at Ease?

Boeing 787 Jet on Fire

Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA) has had a year it would love to forget — between troubled jets and flight problems, things didn’t look good.

In January, the entire 787 fleet was grounded until April due to battery problems; in early July, a 777 being used by Asiana Airlines crash-landed at a San Francisco airport; then, there was a botched landing of a smaller Southwest (NYSE:LUV) 737 jet; and finally, there was the emergency beacon problem that resulted in a fire on an Ethiopian Airlines-operated 787 at London’s Heathrow Airport.

But according to Boeing, the 787 Dreamliners, which are now back in service, are safer than they ever have been. Why would the company make that claim? Because Boeing is monitoring all its 787 Dreamliners around the clock, using sophisticated systems that can track the conditions of many components on the jets. However, these systems had already been on the Dreamliners, and didn’t prevent the past problems, which may be a point of contention.

NPR was given a tour of the new 787 Operations Control Center in Everett, Washington, where Boeing Vice President Mike Fleming showed off the company’s new monitoring systems. Having delivered about 70 Dreamliners so far, the planes now sport equipment that sends massive amounts of data back to the station while the Dreamliner is in the air. Computer software takes the data and runs them through a complex system so the airline can be warned of any potential problems.

If a problem is found by the system, it is displayed on giant computer screens in either yellow or red text. Fleming explained to NPR that red, for example, means “There is a maintenance action that needs to go out and be cleared on the airplane before you have it depart,” grounding the plane until problem is fixed.

The real-time monitoring also has the added benefit of streamlining the process of replacing parts when needed — something Andy Beadle, a procurement agent at Boeing, thinks will save him lots of time. ”Getting a head start on things, it’s kind of a dream come true because I get four or five hours that I normally never got in the past,” he said to NPR.

In the most extreme situations, the real-time monitoring system can even be used so that pilots can talk directly to Boeing experts while in flight.

While NPR notes that real-time airplane monitoring is not new, the sheer amount of data being reviewed and the system’s overall sophistication  surely should prove useful, and Boeing will likely be keeping a more watchful eye on its jets. On a larger scale, Boeing is also able to track data from all flights, potentially allowing Boeing to discern trends — something NPR points out is sure to put Boeing a little more at ease with the 787s flying out again in full force.

So while Boeing would probably like to forget the past year, it looks like the fact the company didn’t will definitely put potential flyers more at ease.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect the correct plane model. An update has also been made to do away with the confusion that the monitoring technology is a new one. While Boeing’s technology has existed for a while, the company is setting up a new system to make its use more widespread. We apologize for the confusion.   

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