US to review Boeing 787 safety issues

January 12, 2013 - 1:06:24 am

NEW YORK: The United States ordered a wide review of Boeing’s latest passenger jet, the 787 Dreamliner, citing “concern” over a spate of technical problems in recent weeks.

Regulators said the Dreamliner remained safe to fly but a thorough examination was needed to identify the root cause of the problems including a fire on a parked 787 on Monday.

“There are concerns about recent events involving the Boeing  787. That is why today we are conducting a comprehensive review,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a news conference.

The review will put an emphasis on the 787’s advanced electrical systems and cover their design, manufacture and assembly, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The move comes on top of a separate probe by US safety investigators into a battery fire which caused “serious damage” to an empty Japan Airlines 787 jet at Boston airport on Monday. 

Adding to incidents that have tested confidence in the world’s first mainly carbon-composite airliner, the jet suffered a cracked cockpit window and an oil leak on separate flights in Japan yesterday. 

The 787 is Boeing’s newest jet and its boldest effort to revolutionise commercial aviation by using new technology to cut the fuel cost for operating the plane by 20 percent. Each lightweight jet has a list price of $207m.

Airlines are pleased with the savings, and have so far given the plane their approval, both by ordering more than 800 jets and mostly sticking by it through the current spate of troubles.

But Boeing already is far over its budget and more than three years behind schedule in delivering Dreamliner planes. The wide-ranging review by US officials has the potential to deal a setback to Boeing’s newest jet, especially if it leads to a costly design change.  

It is also a significant test for the recently-appointed chief executive of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, Ray Conner, who also attended yesterday’s Washington news conference.  Conner  said the company was committed to making the plane as reliable as possible and that its backup systems had been working well. “We have complete confidence in the 787 and so do our customers,” Conner said.

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to maintain public confidence in the Dreamliner, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. LaHood said he would not hesitate to fly on a 787 himself. 

A growing media storm about the 787 glitches echoes global publicity a year ago over wing cracks on the A380 superjumbo, built by Boeing’s European rival Airbus. The A380 has also been deemed safe to fly and few airlines have reported a dip in bookings, but the problems are expected to end up costing Airbus up to ¤500m in repairs.

The 787 Dreamliner made its first commercial flight in late-2011 after a series of production delays put deliveries more than three years behind schedule. By the end of last year, Boeing had sold 848 Dreamliners. It now has 50 in service. Conner said the recent issues had not been caused by either outsourcing production or boosting it too quickly. “We have complete confidence in the 787 and so do our customers,” he said.