It's 2:45 a.m. on a rainy Monday and most of Everett, Wash., is sleeping, but inside the Boeing 787 Dreamliner Operations Control Center a small group of analysts are wide awake. They're monitoring the 28 Dreamliners flying around the world.
"Take a look at this room," said Mike Fleming, vice president of Boeing 787 Services and Support. "We know what's going on. We have our team here getting real time data."
The control center is the first place outside of the cockpit to know when a Dreamliner is not flying or functioning as it was designed.
At 3:45 a.m., a Dreamliner flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Haneda, Japan, indicated a potential problem and it flashed on the large monitor in the center.
"One of the systems on the plane had an initial fault," said Roxann Hirst, senior manager of the control center. "The airplane checked itself and in this case one of the messages said there was a fault. Then as we looked into the issue, the airplane said it corrected itself. Everything was fine."
4,500 Flights, 2 Diversions
Since the Federal Aviation Administration approved modifications to the Dreamliner battery systems in late April and the planes were cleared to resume flying, there have been more than 4,500 flights. Almost all have been uneventful until last week, when two United flights were diverted to make unscheduled landings.
In both cases, the planes cut their flights short after oil indication lights came on.
Within seconds of the oil indication lights flashing in the Dreamliner cockpits, the staff in the operations center knew what was going on.
"Any time you have a diversion, we look very seriously at it. When you put it in context, these things happen every day. If something goes wrong there are procedures the crew will take. That is what makes flying so safe," said Fleming.
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The Boeing analysts have an open line that is always free for airlines to call. If the airlines don't call, Boeing will reach out to them.
Meeting 787 Expectations
From the moment Boeing decided to pack the Dreamliner with new technology and systems, it has promised the plane would meet a benchmark of expectations that tantalized airline executives.
The biggest promise was the Dreamliner being 20 percent more fuel efficient than comparable planes.
There are thousands of other data points airlines are interested in. Collectively, they provide steady feedback on how their Dreamliners are operating.
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In the 787 control center, workers monitor each flight on a variety of screens, including a grid that changes colors if issues pop up. When there are no problems, the flight is green. If issues develop the color of the flight on the board will turn yellow, then orange if it's more serious and red if the problem is likely to require maintenance.
"What's the goal of this room? Situation awareness," said Fleming. "How are the airplanes doing out there? And getting ahead of it so we can recommend maintenance."