Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Dreamliner Is Troubled by Questions about Safety ; Mishaps Including Fire and Fuel Leak Follow Warning from Regulators

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Dreamliner Is Troubled by Questions about Safety ; Mishaps Including Fire and Fuel Leak Follow Warning from Regulators

Article excerpt

The plane had a new problem Wednesday when the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways cancelled a domestic flight after a computer on board erroneously showed problems with the aircraft's brakes.

For Boeing, much rides on the success of its newest and most sophisticated jet, the 787 Dreamliner. But a spate of mishaps is reviving concerns about the plane's reliability and safety.

The plane had a new problem Wednesday, when the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways canceled a domestic flight after a computer on board erroneously showed problems with the aircraft's brakes. A spokeswoman for the airline, Megumi Tezuka, said the computer glitch was similar to one that appeared when the carrier first started flying the Dreamliners in 2011.

The flight, NH698, had been due to depart from Yamaguchi Ube airport in southern Japan for Tokyo's Haneda airport at 4:50 p.m. local time. The flight's 98 passengers were transferred to a later flight.

On Tuesday, a fuel leak forced a 787 to return to its gate minutes before taking off from Boston. On Monday, an electrical fire had broken out on another plane. Both of those incidents affected planes operated by Japan Airlines at Logan International Airport in Boston.

The three events were the latest in a series of problems with the 787, which entered commercial service in November 2011 and has had technical and electrical malfunctions since then. Boeing delivered 46 planes last year, more than any analyst had predicted, and has outlined ambitious plans to double its production rate to 10 planes a month by the end of this year.

Boeing expects to sell 5,000 of the planes in the next 20 years. The basic model has a list price of $206.8 million, but early customers typically received deep discounts to make up for the production delays and teething problems. All this means it could be years before Boeing starts recouping its investment costs and turning a profit on the planes.

Shares of Boeing dropped 2.6 percent to $74.13 Tuesday, extending the drop of 2 percent Monday.

The 787 makes extensive use of new technology, including a bigger reliance on electrical systems, and is built mostly out of lightweight carbon composite materials. While the problems so far do not point to serious design flaws with the airplane, they represent an embarrassment to Boeing's manufacturing ability.

"None of this is a showstopper, and none of this should signal this product is fundamentally flawed," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at the Teal Group, a consulting firm. "But whether these are design glitches or manufacturing glitches, either way it's a serious hit to Boeing's image."

The fuel leak Tuesday was spotted by another pilot as JAL Flight 007, bound for Tokyo, was taxiing and getting ready to take off, said Richard Walsh, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority. The plane was towed back to its gate and the leak of about 40 gallons, or about 150 liters, was cleaned up. …

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