Air Transport World

Debugging the new whale. (Boeing 747-400)

The first year's operation of the Boeing 747-400 must be judged a successful introduction, airlines have told ATW, but a series of nagging minor problems have kept carriers from fully enjoying the airplane's substantial potential.

Dispatch reliability is taking the worst beating from the various glitches and "nits" that accompanied the airplane into service. in March, Boeing reported that the fleet of 57 aircraft flown by 15 airlines had logged a dispatch-reliability rate around 940/&one operator put it more precisely at 93.5%. While much improved from the initial rate, the current rate is more than two points below the manufacturer's target and three points below the rate for the 747200/300 fleet.

Individual airlines, however, have a wider range of experience. KLM, which along with Lufthansa received the first GE-powered 747-400s and the first Combi, struggled to get up to a 91% reliability but the carrier reports a continual improvement. A Qantas executive, in a bit of anger over that airline's experience with the dash 400, put its dispatch rate at around 50%. Although that figure is obvious hyperbole, he called the 747-400 "an electronic hypochondriac." Drawing on experience

Meanwhile, United is tickled pink with its aircraft, citing its own extensive glasscockpit experience for its ability to maintain a 96-98% dispatch rate.

Lufthansa's initial experience, according to Dr. Rolf Stuessel, director of engineering, was worse than the carrier experienced on the first 747-100. But there has been a turnaround, he said, with dispatch reliability rising from 85% to nearly 95%.

Integrity of the aircraft's safety, however, has not been challenged. None of the glitches that operators reported to ATW has been of a hazardous nature but rather, are operational irritations. Officials of carriers took pains to stress that, overall, the airplane has done very well during its introduction, several noting that it paralleled their experience in puning the first 757s into service.

There are reports that the airplane's fuel burn has not yet reached expectations and some engine manufacturers are working with customers and Boeing to alleviate this problem. …

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