Friday, December 14, 2012

Boeing Investigates 787 Dreamliners for Electrical Issues

December 14, 2012, 7:12 p.m. ET

The Wall Street Journal 

Boeing Co. is continuing to investigate electrical issues on its new 787 Dreamliner after the replacement of electrical-system parts on at least four aircraft, which followed last week's emergency landing of a United Continental Holdings Inc. jet and the grounding of a Qatar Airways jet.

A third jet, a 787 first delivered to United Airlines in September, is currently out of service as crews are replacing a suspect power panel and generator. A fourth aircraft, an undelivered 787—destined for Qatar Airways—had a power panel replaced following a test flight at Boeing's Everett, Wash., factory, according to people familiar with the matter.

A failed generator was initially identified by United as the source of the electrical issue that caused a 787 flight from Houston to Newark to divert to New Orleans International Airport last week, but indications now point to a different electrical issue, prompting an examination of panels and other components that distribute electricity to the aircraft systems.

Boeing Chairman and Chief Executive Jim McNerney on Friday told CNBC that the electrical issues were considered to be normal for a new jetliner and on par with the plane maker's experience with the 777.

An FAA spokeswoman said the agency "is working closely with Boeing to identify the root cause of recent generator issues with Boeing 787 aircraft," adding that afterward, "we will work with Boeing to develop appropriate safety actions."

New airplanes, including Boeing's 777 in the mid-1990s and Airbus's A380 late last decade, have faced well-publicized teething problems. But the Dreamliner's electrical system is more critical to the operation of the aircraft than any of Boeing's previous designs.

Boeing's design eliminates a hot and hard to maintain system that bled hot air from the engines to power many of the jet's systems, in favor of a more-electric design that powers everything from the starting of the jet's engines and de-icing the wings to the cabin environmental system.

Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said the plane maker continues to work with United, Qatar and United Technologies Corp.'s Aerospace Systems unit—which supplies the 787's electrical system—to "make a final determination" of the cause of the issues.

Both the Dreamliner involved in the New Orleans emergency and recently delivered Qatar 787, were delivered in late-November, within days of each other to each airline.

The incidents haven't slowed the deployment of the aircraft as both United and Qatar inaugurated two new long-range routes with jet, connecting Houston to Amsterdam and Doha to London this week, respectively, and United spokeswoman Christen David said the 787 involved in the New Orleans landing is now back in service.

Boeing flew the 787 with two Japanese customers until late August, 11 months after its first delivery in September 2011 and has added six airlines in the past five months, rapidly accelerating deliveries, now having handed over 39 jets.

By contrast, Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. delivered 41 double-deck A380 jets from 2007 through 2010.

—Andy Pasztor contributed to this article.


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