As we all know, aircraft manufacturers have been under tremendous competitive pressure to lighten up their aircraft so the airline customers who buy them can increase the aircraft’s range and lower their fuel costs. At the same time, airlines are under similar pressure to install light-weight materials in their cabins for the same reasons and also because they may be cheaper to purchase. So how are these new, lighter-weight materials holding up? I thought I would ask you, the maintenance community working on these aircraft, what your observations are.
This has been an area of much discussion over the last few years but the issue was brought back to my attention by a recent flight on a Boeing 787 from London to Hyderabad. As I wrote recently for Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngoglia/2015/06/17/british-airways-787-flight-what-a-difference-a-year-makes/, I was surprised at how quickly the interior of the cabin had aged.
I had flown a British Airways 787 just one year prior on the same routing – when the aircraft had just been added to the fleet – and had been very favorably impressed with the customer experience. Even in coach – which was always far from comfortable on a 10 hour flight even in earlier times – there was much to distract you from the 17.5 inch seat and awkwardly placed electric box in the foot space of every aisle and window seat. For one, the seat cushion was plump and, more importantly, the entertainment system was a great distraction.
This time, a year later, the plane was decidedly worn. In fact, a light-weight panel that ran from the overhead storage bin to the bulkhead had broken and had been repaired with clear tape. I don’t know what that says to other passengers, but to me that kind of repair speaks volumes about the stress the aircraft and crews must be under to keep the plane flying. The seats had lost all softness. But the most personally annoying issue was that the entertainment system didn’t work and apparently a number of other passengers had the same problem. The headset jack is located on the inside arm of the seat so it’s vulnerable to passengers hitting into it, especially when getting up with the headset plugged in.
So, of course, this was one flight and you can’t reach many conclusions from just one flight. But after I wrote the article, I heard from several 787 mechanics that the “cheap” interiors the airlines are installing are not holding up under the tremendous passenger loads. But I was wondering what others thought about the wear and tear aspect of these materials.
I was also curious what your experiences were with the aircraft’s composite materials and how they were holding up. It would be great if you could comment here – anonymously is fine – or send me an email at email@example.com. I know mechanics often know the most about their aircraft – but are frequently the last to be asked for their input.