Boeing 787 Dreamliner Is Too Plasticy For Safety Inspectors to Figure Out

Used to be that airplanes were simple constructions of steel, bolts, duct tape and ashtrays. Federal safety inspectors knew exactly where to look when it came to making sure the vehicles stayed air worthy.

These days, however, everything's all carbon fiber and plastic--light, efficient, pretty to look at, but deciding whether it's about to fail or not is apparently only a slight step above flipping a coin.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office just released a new report that says all that plastic inside Boeing's new flagship people hauler is going to wreak havoc on safety inspectors.

The 787 boasts revolutionary new designs in the wings and fuselage of the aircraft, which are made almost entirely out of plastic. So where metal parts stretch and warp over time to show telltale signs of aging, the plastic components of the new Dreamliner don't and inspectors are worried they won't know how to tell if there are important safety problems.

The New Scientist reports:

The GAO found that engineers don't know how such materials will behave when damaged, what such damage will look like, and how these factors change as the material ages. Because composite damage is hard to detect - indeed it can be effectively invisible - working out what risk a dent poses is difficult. Too few inspectors are being trained to diagnose such damage, the GAO report adds.

The report says that the 787 is indeed safe and doesn't call for it to be be redesigned before hitting the skies. The report does, however, say that Boeing needs to do more to focus on making sure the long-term life of the 787 is made easier to monitor.

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