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Evolution of planes needs these glitches


Boeing’s Dreamliner, the  company boasts, is the future of aviation. The trouble is: the future of aviation has always been informed by bitter, sometimes fatal, experience.

The 787 is the first truly 21st-century airliner, deploying innovative technology to lighten both the environmental impact and the passenger experience. The UK launch customer of the jet, Thomson Airways, is so confident in the plane that it charges passengers a £20 premium over its older aircraft.

None of which is likely to comfort prospective flyers alarmed by the parade of problems encountered by the 787 this week. Leaks, windscreen cracks and – most worrying – the fire started on the ground by a battery, are not conducive to a dream flight.

Before you check your future flight plans to see if they include a 787 hop, though, note that today more than 5,000 passengers will board Airbus A380s at Heathrow and Manchester airports. This is the same “SuperJumbo” that, in November 2010, suffered an uncontained engine failure shortly after take-off from Singapore, and on which hairline cracks on wing brackets were found last year.

As the pioneering designers of the Comet found in the Fifties, any new jet has imperfections. Thanks to the lessons from past tragedies, these days they are almost always merely discomfiting rather than disastrous.