Qatar Dreamliner Grounded on Fault Echoing United Jet’s

Qatar Airways Ltd. said a 787 jet received from Boeing Co. this week remains grounded with a faulty generator, a problem similar to what forced last week’s emergency landing of a Dreamliner operated by United Continental Holdings Inc.

Qatar Air’s third 787 exhibited the failure on its Dec. 9 delivery flight from the U.S., Akbar Al Baker, the Gulf carrier’s chief executive officer, said yesterday at London’s Heathrow airport. The plane may remain grounded for at least another four days while Boeing sends spares and a recovery team.

“These problems are unacceptable because this aircraft has been flying for the last 14 months,” Al Baker said, referring to the Dreamliner, which entered commercial service late last year. He added that Doha-based Qatar Air will ask Boeing to cover its losses. “Definitely we will demand compensation. We are not buying airplanes from them to put in a museum.”

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday it’s working with Boeing to find the root cause of the recent generator issues. United’s 787 was forced to land in New Orleans on Dec. 4 after a panel failed, sending error messages from one of six generators.

The model’s new electrical system is one of its key selling points. The 787, the world’s first composite-plastic jet, saves on fuel with a system that doesn’t divert air from the engines for power, instead using five times as much electricity as older jets.

“Two aircraft having the same problem -- the same major problem -- so quickly is a cause of concern,” Al Baker said.

‘Working Expeditiously’

Chicago-based Boeing said it’s too early to say if the Qatar failure was the same as United’s.

“Boeing is working as expeditiously as possible to perform the replacement of electrical components needed to return Qatar Airway’s third 787 to service,” said Lori Gunter, a spokeswoman in Everett, Washington, where the planes were assembled. “We’re going to give the technical team sufficient time to review the findings of both events and understand how they might be similar or different.”

United Technologies Corp.’s UTC Aerospace Systems, which includes the former Hamilton Sundstrand unit that makes the 787’s generators, is “working very, very closely with Boeing to help resolve the issue,” said Dan Coulom, a spokesman for the company in Charlotte, North Carolina. He referred further questions to Boeing, which declined to discuss technical details of the Qatar incident or to provide an update on the United one.

FAA Review

United determined last week’s failure happened when “a problem with a power distribution panel caused a nuisance generator fault indication,” said Christen David, a spokeswoman for the Chicago-based carrier. The panel was replaced and the jet has returned to service, David said.

The FAA will work with Boeing to develop “appropriate safety actions” once the source of the failures has been identified, Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an e-mail.

Al Baker said the generator glitch is particularly galling given that the 787’s commercial debut was delayed for 3 1/2 years because of struggles with new materials and production techniques, and because the model has been flying for so long. The 787’s first test flight was three years ago this week.

“I don’t think there is any excuse,” said the executive, who was at London Heathrow following Qatar Air’s first flight there with another of its 787s. “There will be teething problems, yes, minor teething problems.”

‘Fingers Crossed’

Qatar Airways, the second biggest Gulf carrier, is due to get two more 787s on Dec. 19, taking the fleet to five, Al Baker said. That will increase to 10 by the end of 2013, compared with an original plan for 30 by then before the program delays, he said.

“Hopefully, with the ramp up of production at Boeing we will receive some more, but for that I will keep my fingers crossed,” the CEO said. “We have told Boeing that this kind of problem is unacceptable to us because we are already falling behind our expansion program.”

Holdups with the Dreamliner have already forced Qatar Air into a “huge upgrade program” for its similarly sized Airbus SAS A330 planes in order to extend operations for at least three years, he said. Some of the carrier’s 29 A330s will get new seats and in-flight entertainment, he said.

‘Fine Airplanes’

Still, the performance of 787s delivered has been “quite adequate,” Al Baker said, and Qatar Air has seen no evidence of a separate fuel-leak problem that led the FAA a week ago to order inspections and repairs.

“Boeing makes fine airplanes,” he said. “We hope we will always work with them as long as they satisfy our requirements.”

Al Baker said that Qatar Air has examined a bid for Czech Airlines AS after the Czech government last month revived attempts to find a buyer for the state-owned carrier.

“We looked at them, but rumors that Qatar Airways is about to conclude a deal with them are not true,” he said, adding that his airline is sometimes used as “bait to create interest.”

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