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Remember the Millennium bug that wasn't? Well.... Boeing were simply late to the party.

Bryan Edwards

There was a millennium bug joke - an airline captain told his passengers that one of the aircraft's engines had cut out because of the millennium bug but it was OK because the other one was still working. Then his co-pilot told him that the clock on that one was a minute slow.

Of course, no airlines fell from the sky at midnight on 31 December 1999 and even the dozens of chips in some of the USA's nuclear missiles that were causing concern turned out to be just fine.

So, that's that then, you might think. But no.

In 2019, Chinese airlines parked more than a dozen Boeing 787s because.. well, the computers had trouble with the date and time.

In April 2019, China Aviation Review reported that there was a problem with the GPS 20. The culprit? A "rollover issue." The further information began to appear - the problem was with GPS devices around the world. It's all to do with the number 1024 which is part of the series that computers all work to: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024. While we all talk about "k" in computer terms being 1,000 in fact it's 1024. That series, readers will recognise, is the progression that we've all gone through with e.g. storage devices.

The problem was that when the clocks in GPS devices reached 1024, they were at the limit of the ability to calculate. The systems are supposed to self-return to 1.

Well, Boeing's didn't - or at least some of them didn't and Chinese operators noticed. It's illegal to fly without a working GPS so the Boeings were, just as they had been for previous problems, parked on the tarmac until Boeing got around to sorting it out.

Why did the story not make the news? Well, there's almost an unwillingness amongst the media to report problems with the B787. From the days when a pre-production model had a cracked body and Boeing's solution was to put sticky tape on it, through the quiet acceptance that the solution to the burning batteries was to put it into a fireproof box and keep flying.

Also in April 2019, Singapore Airlines parked two B787s. That was a quarter of its fleet. The reason was that the turbine blades in the engines were showing signs of excessive wear, a problem reported by other airlines in the preceding weeks leading to considerable costs for operators who bought the plane on the promise of lower operating costs than the Airbus A380.

Virgin, British Airways and Norwegian - which has a small fleet with little spare capacity - all had to withdraw the Boeings. Norwegian even went so far as to lease an A380 to cover the flights it would have otherwise had to cancel, according to media reports at the time. The engine problems are all with the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines, the Asian regional service base for which is in Singapore. Today, Rolls Royce has revealed its biggest ever losses.

So why did this story miss the major media? It's simple: they were too busy paying attention to the B737 MAX fiasco which was killing people en masse. That story began in late 2018 and in March 2019, the world focussed on the global grounding of B737 MAX aircraft amid the withdrawal of its certification in country after country and, eventually, the USA's FAA deciding it could not longer maintain its defence of both Boeing and its own certification policies and procedures. Boeing has seemingly given up trying to keep up customers' spirits by announcing expected dates for recertification - the latest deadline, the end of July this year, slipped by and now no one seems to be talking about it.

The B787s were flying again - and then the world fell out of the air travel market - although reports today say that China's industry will be back to normal operations within three months if there are no further major coronavirus outbreaks. As for the rest of the world, there is a collective gasp of relief that the bill for the parked B737 MAX planes dotting the runways of airports around the world is all for Boeing's account and with flights still at best uncertain, the planes aren't going anywhere anyway. And, having been parked, many in hot, humid, climates for, so far, getting on for 18 months, the clean-up to bring them up to serviceable standard will be long and costly.

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