U.S. regulators said they will perform a far-reaching review of the design, manufacturing and assembly of Boeing Co. (BA)’s 787 Dreamliner after a fire on a Japan Airlines Co. (9201) jet this week and several incidents last year.
“We are confident about the safety of this aircraft, but we’re concerned about these incidents and will conduct a review until we are completely satisfied,” Michael Huerta, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, said at a press conference today in Washington.
The review is in addition to a U.S. National Transportation Safety Board probe of the Jan. 7 fire that the agency said caused severe damage to the battery pack area of the 787 after passengers disembarked in Boston following a flight from Tokyo. A couple of jets were grounded last month by a power fault which Boeing said this week it had traced to flaws in power panels.
Regulators will place special emphasis on the electrical systems, batteries and power distribution panels in the Dreamliner and how the electrical and mechanical systems of the airplane work together, Huerta said.
An agency review stops short of emergency actions such as mandatory fixes or a fleet grounding that the Washington-based FAA has imposed after some aviation accidents. The NTSB classified the fire in Boston as an “incident,” not an accident.
“I believe this plane is safe and I would have absolutely no reservations of boarding one of these planes and taking a flight,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at the press conference.
Boeing fell 2.5 percent to $75.13 at 10:38 a.m. in New York. The Chicago-based planemaker’s shares gained 2.8 percent in the 12 months that ended yesterday.
This isn’t the first time that the FAA has reviewed a new airplane model after its introduction, said Huerta, who didn’t identify previous examples. The Dreamliner made its commercial debut in late 2011, and there are now 50 in service, according to the FAA.
“We have complete confidence in the 787 and so do our customers,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner said at the press conference.
The Dreamliner conserves fuel by using five times more electricity than other similar jets and by saving weight with a fuselage and wings made from composite materials, not aluminum. Some existing FAA regulations didn’t cover the new technologies, so the plane was certified with multiple “special conditions.”
Boeing has marketed the twin-engine jet as a way to open new routes between far-flung cities that don’t need the capacity of larger wide-bodies such as the 777 and the 747 jumbo jet. The FAA has approved the 787 for flights of as long as 180 minutes away from landing strips, and Boeing said this week it’s in final talks to extend that to 330 minutes.
The 787’s use of lithium-ion batteries sets it apart from other models. Boeing got regulators’ permission to use the batteries in the jet in 2007, three years after passenger planes were barred from carrying non-rechargeable types as cargo because of their flammability.
Only lithium batteries can provide a high-energy start and be recharged quickly to meet the jet’s needs, Mike Sinnett, the chief engineer for the Dreamliner, said this week. The battery has “robust protection” against charging and discharging too quickly, since both are dangerous, he said.
All new jets have introductory pains the first year or two, Sinnett said. The 787’s performance hasn’t been any worse than that of the 777, which made its commercial debut in 1995 and is one of Boeing’s most popular models, and has been better than other wide-body jets, he said.
All Nippon Airways Co. (9202), first to start commercial operations with the Dreamliner, is replacing a cockpit window on a 787 that cracked during a flight between Tokyo and Matsuyama in western Japan, spokeswoman Megumi Tezuka said today. An oil leak was found when another 787 landed at Miyazaki in southern Japan, she said. The plane returned to Tokyo after inspections.
The airline, the biggest operator of the Dreamliner, had two previous cases of window cracks on the jet, Tezuka said.
India’s government, owner of Air India Ltd., is concerned about the problems reported elsewhere, an aviation ministry official said today, asking not to be identified citing government rules. The nation’s aviation regulator is awaiting the U.S. reports on the aircraft.
Air India received its sixth Dreamliner on Jan. 7.