Jetstar has grounded one of its Boeing 787-8s after the plane incurred significant lightning damage during a flight in early May. Lightning damaged the jet’s fuselage, leaving it with burn marks, blistered paint, and scores of small holes. The damage was discovered after the plane landed and Jetstar says at no time was the aircraft or its load of passengers at risk.
Scorch marks, blistered paint, and a fuselage littered with holes
First reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, further inquiries revealed the damaged jet is VH-VKL, a seven-year-old Boeing 787-8 operating Jetstar’s daily JQ444 service from Melbourne (MEL) to Coolangatta/Gold Coast (OOL) on May 7. That flight scoots northwards, usually tracking just west of Australia’s southeast coast, and as residents of that part of the world know, the weather there has often been atrocious in recent weeks.
Along the way, the Dreamliner sustained some substantial damage to its fuselage. The news outlet obtained footage of a post-landing inspection. That footage is now available on social media feeds. There are several significant scorch marks on the fuselage’s underside, blistered paint, and what appears to be scores of small holes caused by lightning strikes.
Dreamliner lightning damage could take two months to repair
Since the incident, the jet has remained parked at OOL. Jetstar advises its engineers are still scoping the scale of the damage and it could take up to two months for the plane to return to service. Jetstar also stresses that “at no point was the safety of the aircraft compromised.”
“The 787 is a composite aeroplane,” aviation expert and editor-in-chief of airlineratings.com Geoffrey Thomas told Brisbane radio station 4BC on Wednesday. “They have a metal mesh in the skin of the plane and that conducts the electricity (from a lightning strike) like a faraday cage does. The electricity then goes out the plane’s discharge wicks.”
A faraday cage is a mesh shield that blocks electromagnetic fields and is built into the skin of jets with aluminum fuselages.
“Every now and then you get a super bolt of lightning – which I think is what impacted this plane. A positive bolt is more powerful than the common negative bolt and that can do some damage when it exits the plane. When you do get hit by a super bolt on a plane, it is quite an event for passengers. There’s normally a flash and bang and it gives you a bit of a fright.”
Jetstar quietly brings its Dreamliners back into service
The return to service of Jetstar’s Dreamliners is one of the quiet success stories of Australia’s aviation recovery. Throughout most of the pandemic, Jetstar had its 11 strong Boeing 787-8 fleet in storage, many safely stashed away at the Alice Springs storage facility. Discounting the now out-of-action VH-VKL, all but one of the Jetstar Dreamliners are back flying passengers. The Jetstar 787-8 not flying is VH-VKE – parked in Melbourne since February.
Normally the Dreamliners service Jetstar’s international network, and while some parts of that network are back up and running, other parts are not – notably in Japan and other North Asian markets. But there’s plenty of passenger demand on Jetstar’s domestic network, particularly to big leisure destinations like the Gold Coast, and Jetstar has deployed some Dreamliners on routes such as MEL – OOL instead of their day-to-day Airbus A320-200 narrowbodies.
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