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Teething problems or systemic issues for 787?

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Jan. 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
January 9, 2013 2:37 pm

A fire aboard a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner just after it arrived Monday in Boston and a subsequent fuel leak from its replacement aircraft Tuesday have analysts wondering whether the vaunted Dreamliner is experiencing systemic flaws or just teething issues normal for a new aircraft.

Those incidents followed a series of recent issues with the high-technology planes that have caused some airline customers to hold back introducing those planes on long, overwater flights.

Wall Street, after a few hours of doubt Tuesday that drove Boeing stock prices lower apparently believes Boeing’s take on the problems, that they’re unfortunate but not unusual for a new plane, particularly one that advances technology as much as the 787.

Boeing’s stock rose 3.55 percent Wednesday on Wall Street to $76.76. That was an increase of $2.63 over Tuesday’s closing.

Boeing’s chief engineer for the 787, Mike Sinnett told reporters Wednesday that the plane’s reliability has been better than other new aircraft at introduction.

“When I look at these issues they’re the same kind of issues we’ve had on other aircraft. We didn’t want those, and we worked just as hard to make those problems go away. We’re not complacent and we’re not sitting back.” None of the problems have “raised significant concerns beyond our experience base,” Sinnett told Aviation Week.

The Dreamliner is different from previous aircraft in that it powers many of its controls and its heating and ventilation system with electricity instead of by air bled from the engines.

The Japan Air Lines Dreamliner fire Monday at Boston has been traced to a lithium ion battery that resides in the plane’s aft electronics bay.

Lithium ion batteries have been troublesome in aircraft and in electric vehicles. A shipment of those batteries aboard cargo aircraft has been blamed for two crashes, one in the MidEast and the other in Asia. Those crashed aircraft were not 787s.

Lithium ion batteries are favored because they offer superior energy storage capacity than alternative batteries at a lower weight. But those batteries are subject to overheating if they’re overcharged.

Boeing is investigating several electrical problems with Dreamliners besides the Boston JAL plane.

A United Dreamliner made an emergency landing in New Orleans when a generator went off line recently. And Qatar Airways complained publicly that a new Dreamliner was grounded with electrical issues in London. Chile’s LAN Airlines has said the operational availability of its Dreamliners is less than expected because of electrical and cooling problems.

United is delaying the start of Houston-Lagos service with the Dreamliner until the electrical issues are worked out.

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