The long dream

A remarkable feature of today's commercial airliners is that they last a long, long time.

True, they get rebuilt, stripped down, re-engined and upgraded, but with proper maintenance and reasonable fuel prices, many commercial jets can stay in service for more than 20 years.

Equally remarkable, their basic designs hang around for a great deal longer, often getting stretched, tweaked, modernized and improved as time goes on.

It is worth recalling that the basic design of the 747 dates from the 1960s. The aircraft entered commercial service with Pan Am in January 1970. Today, the 747 is still in production. The 737, usually referred to as a global workhorse, is a bit older and is also still in production.

We bring this up because of the recent grounding of Boeing's latest venture, the 787 Dreamliner.

It has been brought low not by the most talked-about feature of its design, its heavy use of new composite materials, but by the use of lithium-ion batteries in its auxiliary power systems. This is an ironic turn of events given that some airlines regard these batteries as troublemakers even when carried as baggage and cargo.

Unquestionably this grounding is hurting Boeing, but at this point we still have every reason to believe that the problem can be identified and fixed. Aeronautical engineers and safety investigators have proven, over and over, that they're pretty good at figuring things out.

Boeing is playing the long game, and in the long run, we're rooting for it.
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