Safety Inspectors May Not Be Able To Tell If a Fancy New Boeing 787 Is Damaged

By Andrew Liszewski on at

The extensive use of composite materials makes the Boeing 787 one of the most advanced commercial aircraft ever built. And while it's already been approved for flight, safety officials are concerned about the long term viability of those materials, which are now being used in the aircraft's wings and fuselage.

Composite materials like carbon fibre and plastics have been used in aircraft components for years now, but concerns have been raised—in a report published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office—that the composite structures that make up the 787's wings and fuselage are being tested against safety standards designed for planes with metal structures. Over time metal will bend, flex and stretch before failing, providing safety inspectors with telltale signs that repairs are needed before there's a serious problem. But composite materials behave differently, and officials are worried that inspectors simply don't know what signs might allude to impending structural failure. Even the risk factors of something as simple as a dent aren't fully understood at this point, and there are further concerns that maintenance workers aren't properly equipped when it comes to repairing these materials.

The report hasn't stymied Boeing's progress on getting the Dreamliner into customer's hands, though. Last week the airliner made its first official passenger flight, and the promise of more comfort for passengers and lowered operating costs seem like enough reasons for airlines to dismiss these concerns, at least for now. [Daily Mail]

Photo: AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye