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American Airlines Is Cutting Flights After Boeing Missed a Major 787 Delivery Deadline

In a $1 billion loss.

American Airlines Is Cutting Flights After Boeing Missed a Major 787 Delivery Deadline
An American Airlines-branded Boeing 787. Masakatsu Ukon / Wikimedia

Looks like more headaches for Boeing.

American Airlines announced Thursday that Boeing’s failure to deliver more than a dozen 787 Dreamliners forced it to cancel flights scheduled for summer 2022, The New York Times reported. The announcement follows a fitful year for the 787 program, including mistakes by suppliers and the discovery of serious defects that prompted an investigation by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

While this is distressing to American Airlines and Boeing, this cancelation could raise questions about how and when the industry will reduce the amount of carbon its aircraft pumps into the atmosphere.

Boeing's 787 suffers the fallout of compounding years

Boeing’s 787 has been plagued by problems and delays. In November, the Seattle Times reported on an internal F.A.A. memo that listed several serious manufacturing defects, many of which are the result of the 787’s size. The largest Dreamliners are 224 ft (68 m) long and have a wingspan of 197 ft (60 m), according to Boeing. The memo indicated that carbon fiber used in the plane’s enormous wings, fuselage, and tail was contaminated during fabrication, and this issue could interfere with major bonds that hold the plane together. The supplier, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, reported the problem with the wings to Boeing earlier this year. And, while initial tests indicated that those pieces could still be used, similar problems affected suppliers that fabricate the fuselage and tail. And these issues were more severe, with tests indicating that they couldn't be bonded safely.

Later, in October, the company reported problems with titanium components from an Italian supplier. The flaws — which apparently went undetected for at least three years — affected spacers, brackets, and clips used in the manufacture of the 787 airframe. Though the issue affected some planes that had already been delivered, a company spokesperson said it was not “an immediate safety of flight concern for the active, in-service fleet,” according to the Daily Herald.

The future of jet airlines remains uncertain

Several new developments in aerospace engineering and propulsion technology are casting doubt on the future of aircraft that create thrust by burning fossil fuels, like the 787 does. Boeing itself announced earlier this year that it would aim to use 100% sustainable fuels in its commercial aircraft by 2030. CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Stan Deal said the company was “committed to working with regulators, engine companies, and other key stakeholders to ensure our airplanes and eventually our industry can fly entirely on sustainable jet fuels."

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The largest U.S. airplane manufacturer will have plenty of competition as it moves toward a zero-carbon future. Brazilian airline Azul announced in October that it was in talks with German all-electric aircraft startup Lilium to purchase 220 aircraft within the next four years. Relatedly, the jet manufacturer Rolls Royce has successfully tested 100% electric aircraft, in addition to others that run entirely on sustainable fuel. Compounded by Lilium's $1-billion deal for seven-seat jets, it's hard to deny that electric planes are still a premium product.

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