Japan to Investigate Boeing 787 Fuel Leak as FAA Reviews

Japan set up a team to investigate the safety of the Boeing Co. 787 after aircraft operated by the nation’s carriers suffered a series of glitches since last week, including a fire on board a Japan Airlines Co.. jet in Boston.

The team comprises members of the transport ministry’s aviation safety department and freight safety committee, Shigeru Takano, group manager of the safety department, said by phone today. The group, established yesterday, will work with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing, he said.

The probe follows an FAA special review of the design, manufacturing and assembly of the 787 prompted by the fire and other incidents including fuel leaks. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways Co., the nation’s largest carriers, are among the biggest operators of the Dreamliner, which entered commercial service in 2011 after more than three years of delays.

“Once the government authority gets involved, it’s at a different level entirely for the aircraft manufacturer,” said Tony Webber, managing director of Webber Quantitative Consulting in Sydney. “I don’t think it’s a massive setback, but it’s certainly a setback you’d prefer not to happen.”

Besides the fire, the latest incidents include two separate fuel leaks on a Japan Airlines jet on Jan. 8 and Jan. 13, a cockpit window cracking on an All Nippon 787, and an oil leak on another All Nippon Dreamliner.

‘Daily Basis’

The ministry has yet to decide on when the final outcome of the investigation will be reported, Akihiro Ota, Japan’s transport minister, said at a press conference in Tokyo today.

“It worries me that these incidents are occurring on a daily basis,” Ota said.

Boeing will work with its customer and regulatory agencies to “understand the events,” Rob Henderson, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail today.

India’s government, owner of Air India Ltd., is concerned about the problems reported elsewhere, an aviation ministry official said last week. The nation’s aviation regulator is awaiting the U.S. reports on the aircraft. Air India received its sixth Dreamliner on Jan. 7.

U.S. officials pronounced the 787 safe last week even as the FAA disclosed the special review of the plane. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has classified the Jan. 7 fire as an “incident,” not an accident.

The FAA’s evaluation will probably start in Seattle, home to the agency’s office that certified the 787 and to Boeing’s commercial hub. The review “may expand to other locations over the course of several months,” the FAA said in a statement Jan 11. Boeing engineers will participate in the review process.

The Dreamliner is the first aircraft with a fuselage made chiefly of composite materials. 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 747 jumbo jet. The 787 has become its fastest-selling model ever, with 848 orders through the end of 2012.

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