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787 Dreamliner bristles with composite components

Updated: Jul 21, 2018

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has revolutionised the aviation industry through the application of sonic-boom busting technology: ie, composites.

While Triac Composites does not serve the aviation market, the 787 Dreamliner offers a terrific example of the type of benefits that composites can offer users in other market segments in which Triac Composites has an active presence.

[Video above: the build, paint and first flight of Qantas' inaugural Boeing 787-9. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner bristles with composites. Video by Airline Ratings, October 2017.]

Below is a summary of the benefits flowing from the 787 program. The summary has been compiled by Triac Composites from multiple sources listed at the end of the article.

Design flexibility

One of the great advantages of composites is that they allow "design flexibility" and freedom for designers. Designers can shape products in a manner that is simply not possible with other materials and in the case of the 787, this makes for a more aerodynamic plane.

The sweptback wings on the 787 were only possible because of the "increased malleability of composites" compared with metal.

The barrel fuselage was manufactured in single pieces which removed the need for 1,500 aluminium sheets and 50,000 screws! Overall, this represented an 80 per cent reduction in the number of fasteners required when compared with a non composite barrel structure. Benefits include reduced weight, less complexity (reduced maintenance) - while maintaining that all important structural strength.

Further, once the manufacturing process is established, there is a significant reduction in waste, hazardous materials and time needed for manufacturing cycles.

Strength and reduced weight

Testament to the structural strength of composites is that they account for 50 per cent of the 787's airframe (compared with 12 per cent on the Boeing 777) - with just 80 per cent of the weight of a standard airframe.

Benefits of the 20 per cent weight saving include:

  • Fuel savings

  • Reduced landing fees (fees are often based on landing weight)

  • 20 per cent fewer emissions

  • Opportunity to increase the income-generating freight payload by up to 45 per cent.

A bonus for passengers is that the superior strength to weight ratio has allowed the size of the windows to be increased by 30 per cent.

Less corrosion and fatigue

Boeing explains that, "in operation, the (composite) structure is more durable and does not corrode or fatigue like metals".

This has significant benefits for maintenance schedules (see further below), but also for passengers.

The strength of composites allows the cabin's air pressure (where the fuselage in particular is considered to be a "high tension-loaded environment") to be set at the equivalent of an altitude of 1.8kms instead of the standard 2.4kms.

The anti corrosive qualities of the composites allow the humidity inside the cabin to be increased.

These two developments allow for higher humidity in the cabin, superior ventilation and better temperature control. The benefits for passengers include a significant reduction in the incidence of headaches, fatigue, eye irritation, muscle aches and tiredness.

For airline operators, these benefits increase the likelihood of customers remaining loyal (income protection/generation) and / or attracting new customers.

Reduced maintenance: less costs, higher revenue

With the enormous capital cost of jet aircraft, operators continually try to refine business models to maximise the time that aircraft are airborne generating income.

But, to prevent an aircraft falling out of the sky, planes must be grounded for maintenance. That maintenance falls into two categories:

  • Scheduled maintenance

  • Non scheduled (“nonroutine”) maintenance

Scheduled maintenance

With the composites suffering reduced wear and tear, the need for scheduled maintenance is reduced accordingly,

Boeing asserts that costs for the significant scheduled maintenance checks on the 787, known as "A", "C" and "D" (with "D" being the most significant) have fallen 44 per cent, 65 per cent and 63 per cent respectively.

Non scheduled maintenance

Boeing notes that composites are more resistant to impact than metal (less non scheduled maintenance) and that if any damage has occurred, it should be more visible and easier to detect.

Reducing non scheduled (disruptive) maintenance is a key driver for operators. Boeing's figures suggest that non scheduled maintenance "frequently doubles or even triples the total labor hours expended during a maintenance check”.

Where non scheduled maintenance is required, the imperative is to reduce the amount of time required so that the 787 Dreamliner can be airborne again as quickly as is safely possible (and rosters can start to be restored).

Boeing has developed "rapid composite repair techniques" that provide a temporary fix for a situation that may have grounded another plane.

For more serious composite repairs, engineers can use "bolted on" solutions that require similar resources and amounts of time to other planes.

But there are also permanent "bonded composite repairs" which offer an improved aerodynamic and aesthetic finish without the need for an autoclave. In many cases, these bonded repairs may take up to 24 hours to complete (requiring the plane to be grounded for this time) - but, as the technology develops, an increasing number of repairs only require one hour to complete.

Reduced maintenance, greater aeroplane availability

Triac Composites - 30 years' marine experience

While Triac Composites does not do any work in the aviation sector, its owners have 30 years of composites' experience in the marine industry, specifically with sailing boats.

With sailing boats, the focus is on reducing weight as much as possible (for speed) - while maintaining strength. Big sails on light boats place enormous stress / loads on the boats and composites provide the solution. Also, given much of the sailing happens in oceans under direct sunlight, the structural integrity cannot be compromised by corrosion or UV rays. Again, composites provide the solution.

Triac Composites - building, transport, aquaculture

Triac Composites is now leveraging its marine industry experience with composites into other industries.

Other industries are also looking for solutions that require:

  • Superior strength

  • Weight savings

  • Fatigue, corrosion and UV resistance

  • Insulative

  • Design flexibility

Triac Composites is already working in areas such as buildings (interiors and exteriors eg facades), transport (interiors for Vietnam Railways' new trains), recreation and aquaculture. But it is expected that the range of industries will increase as new customers' share their needs with Triac Composites.

Triac Composites Enquiries


  1. Boeing 787 from the ground up, by Justin Hale, Boeing.

  2. Boeing 787 update, by Dale Brosius, Composites World, 5 May 2007

  3. How the Boeing Dreamliner works, by John Perritano and Vicki M Giuggio, How stuff works.

  4. 787 Dreamliner by design, Boeing

  5. Dreamliner advantages overview, Boeing

  6. The dream of composites, RD Magazine, 20 November 2018

  7. The A, C and D of aircraft Maintenance, Qantas, 18 July 2016

  8. Luchtvaartfeiten, Netherlands. Fact Sheet Composites: Damage detection in composites in aviation.

What if you built it in composites?

  • Could it eliminate those issues (eg rust, fatigue, weight, weakness etc) associated with other materials?

  • Could it open up new possibilities and horizons?

Why not ask us? You'll never know if you never ask... Email

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