This week, a wing segment of an airliner washed up on the shores of Reunion Island in the western Indian Ocean.
Investigators believe the wreckage to be that of a “flaperon” from the right wing of a Boeing 777.
On March 8, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200Er operating as Flight MH370 disappeared while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China.
Should it be determined that MH370 did indeed crash, it would be the third Boeing 777 to crash in three years.
However, as we await the fate of the vanished airliner and the 239 passengers and crew on board, it’s important to remember that the Boeing 777 is one of the safest and most successful airliners in aviation history.
In the two decades since it entered service in 1995, the 777 has become a workhorse for long-haul international airlines. Along with Airbus A330, the 777 helped revolutionise modern air travel — eventually rendering the jumbo jet obsolete.
So far, more than 1,3
00 Boeing 777s have entered service with airlines and cargo carriers.
In 20 years, only five Boeing 777s have been written off, due to fire, crashes, or disappearance.
The first incident took place in 2008 when a British Airways 777 suffered engine failure on landing and crashed on the runway at Heathrow Airport. The aircraft — operating as BA Flight 38 — experienced sudden loss of power, and the cause of the incident was eventually traced back to a design fault in Rolls-Royce’s Trent turbofan engines that allowed ice to build up in the fuellines. Although nearly 50 people were injured, no one died in the crash.
The second incident took place in 2011, when an EgyptAir 777 caught fire while parked at a gate at Cairo Airport. Fortunately, all passengers onboard were able to deplane and only a few people were injured. Eqyptian investigators believe the fire was caused by a short circuit and was fed by the pilot’s onboard oxygen supply.
The third hull-loss and first fatal accident involving a 777 occurred in 2013, when an Asiana Flight 214 crashed while landing in San Francisco. Three of the 291 passengers on board were killed, while all 16 crew members survived. Investigators at the NTSB attributed the crash to pilot error.
The fourth incident took place when MH370 disappeared.
The final Boeing 777 lost was Malaysia Airlines MH17 which was shot down over Ukraine last July. All 298 passengers and crew onboard were killed when the airliner was reportedly struck by a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missile.
Of the five incidents, only the EgyptAir incident could be attributed to a failure by the plane itself. Although that could change if investigators are able to locate the wreckage of MH370 and determine the cause of the incident.
Only 0.4% of the 1,313 777s ever produced have been involved in crashes or incidents that left the plane damaged beyond repair. That’s minuscule compared to the 4% of all the 1,510 747s have been written off over the years, which itself is considered an incredibly reliable and safe aircraft.
Boeing developed the 777 from scratch in the early 1990s by a 10,000-man team at an estimated cost of $US5 billion. It was the seventh all-new jetliner introduced by the aeroplane maker.
The 777 was concieved to fill a hole in the market at the time that called for a large widebody long-haul airliner, smaller than the company’s legendary 747 jumbo, but bigger than the smaller 767 — a “mini-jumbo.”
In the 2000s, the plane exploded in popularity. Much of this can be attributed to a spike in the cost of fuel and the repeal of regulations barring twin-engined airliners from flying certain long haul routes.
In the process, the 777 and its Airbus counterpart became the perfect fuel-efficient long-distance aircraft. As a result, four-engined airliners such as Boeing’s 747 jumbo and Airbus’ A340 have been relegated to relic status.