Boeing 787 incidents prompt FAA review

Prompted by a recent fire and other incidents, the Federal Aviation Administration is launching a comprehensive review of the new, high-tech Dreamliner.

Boeing 787
This Boeing 787 Dreamliner made the aircraft's first commercial flight. It's seen here at Narita airport near Tokyo just before takeoff. All Nippon Airways

The Federal Aviation Administration today said it is opening a comprehensive review of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner following recent incidents that have raised questions about the innovative aircraft.

Earlier this week, for instance, firefighters had to put out a small blaze on a Japan Airlines 787 on the ground at Boston's Logan International Airport. The cause of the fire, which occurred with no passengers on the plane at the time, was traced back to a battery pack in an auxiliary power unit.

"This review will cover the critical systems of the aircraft, including design, manufacturing and assembly," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a press briefing this morning. "Through it we will look for the root causes of recent events and do everything we can to make sure these do not happen again."

But LaHood and FAA administrator Michael Huerta were quick to offer reassurances that citizens need not fear booking flights in a 787. "From day one, we have worked with Boeing to certify these systems and to further ensure that this innovative aircraft meets our high level of safety for the flying public," Huerta said at the briefing. "We believe this is a safe aircraft."

The Dreamliner went into commercial service in October 2011 , some three years behind schedule . It has been hailed as a technological tour de force because of advances incorporated in its design, including lightweight carbon fiber materials, sensors and smart monitoring systems, and design niceties such as windows that darken at the touch of a button.

The FAA said that the review will likely begin in the Seattle area, Boeing's home turf, but may expand to other locations over several months.

Fifty 787s are in service worldwide. In the U.S., the only carrier with Dreamliners in its active fleet is United, with six of the aircraft.

In the Boston incident, the initial finding from the National Transportation Safety Board was that "severe fire damage" had occurred to the auxiliary power unit battery, which uses rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and that thermal damage to the surrounding structure and components was "confined to the area immediately near the APU battery rack (within about 20 inches) in the aft electronics bay."

Other mishaps in recent weeks have involved oil and fuel leaks, a cracked windshield, and false warnings from an electrical panel.

Boeing is cooperating in the review of the 787 and remains staunchly confident about its design and performance. In a statement today, the aircraft maker said:

The airplane has logged 50,000 hours of flight and there are more than 150 flights occurring daily. Its in-service performance is on par with the industry's best-ever introduction into service -- the Boeing 777. Like the 777, at 15 months of service, we are seeing the 787's fleet-wide dispatch reliability well above 90 percent.

Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Aircraft, continued that theme at the press briefing this morning. "It's important to emphasize," he said, "that every new commercial airplane has issues as they enter service, and none of these in-service issues have ever thus far altered out complete confidence in the 787."

About the author

Jonathan Skillings is managing editor of CNET News, based in the Boston bureau. He's been with CNET since 2000, after a decade in tech journalism at the IDG News Service, PC Week, and an AS/400 magazine. He's also been a soldier and a schoolteacher, and will always be a die-hard fan of jazz, the brassier the better.

 

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