Boeing's troubled 787 dealt another setback

Posted: January 18, 2013

U.S. regulators temporarily grounded Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner on Wednesday after an emergency landing by one of the planes in Japan that followed a fire and other incidents last week.

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered airlines to prove that lithium-ion batteries in the plane, which went into service in late 2011, "are safe and in compliance," according to an e-mailed statement.

Though United Continental Holdings Inc. is the only U.S. carrier operating the 787s, most other countries follow the FAA's lead in aviation safety issues.

"The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible," the agency said in the statement.

The FAA began a review last week of the model's critical systems, looking at the design and manufacturing, after a series of issues with the plane's electrical system, including a Jan. 7 fire in Boston.

Japan's All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. parked their 24 Dreamliners earlier Wednesday after pilots for ANA on a domestic flight got battery-fault warnings and saw smoke in the cockpit, the U.S. National Transportation Board said.

The groundings added to the questions plaguing a model that was targeted for a U.S. assessment because of a Jan. 7 fire in a lithium-ion battery pack on a Japan Airlines plane in Boston. Fuel leaks, electrical faults, and a cracked windscreen also have been reported on 787s in recent weeks.

Shares of Boeing, which operates a large helicopter facility in Ridley Park, where some 787 design work was reportedly done, fell 3.4 percent Wednesday, the most since June 1, to close at $74.34.

An NTSB investigator is being sent to Japan to assist in the follow-up inquiry into the ANA incident, Kelly Nantel, an agency spokeswoman, said. The FAA and Boeing are also dispatching representatives, Nantel said.

The 787 is Boeing's most technologically advanced jet, featuring a body made of composite materials instead of the traditional aluminum. The 787-8 model carries about 250 passengers. It conserves fuel by using five times more electricity to power its systems than other planes, and is Boeing's first model to rely on lithium-ion batteries.

After last week's fire, the renewed focus on battery risks will be a bigger concern for investors than the fuel leaks and windshield cracking, Carter Copeland, a Barclays P.L.C. analyst in New York, said in a note to clients.

The Dreamliner entered commercial service in 2011 after more than three years of delays, and ANA was the initial customer. ANA and Japan Airlines are the biggest operators of the planes so far, with 24 Dreamliners in a global fleet that the U.S. FAA says now numbers 50 aircraft.

In Wednesday's ANA incident, pilots sent the 129 passengers and eight crew members down emergency chutes after diverting the Tokyo-bound flight to Takamatsu airport in southern Japan, Vice President Osamu Shinobe said at a news conference in Tokyo. One passenger was taken to the hospital with wrist pain.

Who Flies Dreamliners

Boeing has delivered 50 of its 787s to airlines around the world.

 All Nippon Airways 17

Japan Airlines 7

Air India 6

United Continental

Holdings Inc., U.S. 6

Qatar Airways 5

Ethiopian Airlines 4

LAN Airlines (Chile) 3

LOT Polish Airlines 2

SOURCE: Boeing Co., airlines.

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