Cracks and leaks turn Dreamliner to a nightmare
Five incidents in five days prompts inquiry into plane previously approved for take off
Nikhil Kumar is The Independent's New York correspondent. He was formerly assistant editor on the foreign desk and has also done a variety of jobs on the city desk, where he wrote about markets, commodities and other business and economics topics.
Saturday 12 January 2013
A series of glitches with Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner have led American regulators to take the unusual step of launching a review of a plane they had already approved, focusing on its electrical systems.
The move comes after no less than five incidents involving the new plane were reported in the last five days. They included a battery fire discovered following the detection of smoke in the empty cabin of a Japan Airlines 787 at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Just today, Japan’s All Nippon Airways, the largest operator of the new jet, said one of its Dreamliners had suffered a small oil leak, while a different plane was grounded for repairs after the discovery of a crack on its cockpit windscreen.
Earlier in the week, a day after the battery fire, a fuel leak forced another Japan Airlines jet to return to its gates minutes before take-off from Boston. Around 40 gallons of fuel was spewed across the tarmac.
With the glitches adding up, technical experts from the US Federal Aviation Administration, who clocked up some 200,000 hours on testing the jet before giving it the all-clear in August 2011, will once again go over the design, manufacture and assembly of the airliner.
The review, which will be conducted jointly with the company, is the latest cloud over the Dreamliner, which has been beset by cost overruns and production delays. Composed mainly of light-weight composite materials instead of the usual aluminum, it was sold as a more fuel efficient alternative to the current crop of gas-guzzling jets, and was Boeing’s way of taking on Airbus and its new A380 super-jumbo, which also had a setback after the discovery of wing cracks last January, which triggered inspections. Late last year, Airbus’s European parent, EADS, said it was taking a €200m (£165m) hit because of the money spent on repairs.
Boeing is not yet facing any such bill. But it could end up with a costly headache if the FAA review calls for a change in the design of the 787 or in the way the American company puts the planes together.
Today, following the announcement of the review, Boeing’s shares fell by more than 2 per cent in early afternoon trading.
Officials were careful to stress the safety of the new planes, however, with President Barack Obama’s Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, saying: “I believe this plane is safe and I would have absolutely no reservations about boarding one of these planes and taking a flight.”
No one has been injured in the recent incidents, and the review does not call for the grounding of Dreamliner flights. “But we need to have a complete understanding of what is happening,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta added.
Today, Boeing, which has received 848 orders for the new plane and delivered 49, pointed out that the issues with the new jet were on par with teething problems encountered when it launched its successful 777 jet in the 1990s.
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