Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dreamliner nightmare continues for Boeing as Qatar Airways pulls plane out of service 'after smoke reported near electrical compartment'

Qatar Airways has pulled one of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners out of service following a 'minor' technical issue, as pressure mounted on Boeing over possible new electrical problems with the advanced jet.

It is the latest in a spate of mishaps for the 787, including a fire on an Ethiopian Airlines-owned 787 earlier this month which caused Heathrow airport to be shut down for an hour and a half while firefighters battled the blaze.

The entire fleet of 787s was grounded earlier this year thanks to repeated faults in the lithium-ion batteries which sometimes led to plane fires.

Today, it was revealed that an oven overheated and caused smoke in an Air India Dreamliner this week. India's aviation regulator is investigating the incident, which did not interrupt services.

Qatar Airways and Boeing declined to give further details about the affected plane. Industry sources said it had been grounded for days after smoke was seen near an electrical panel.

According to tracking service Flightaware, the aircraft, registered as A7-BCB, has not flown since Sunday - an unusually long time for a long-haul jet designed to save on fuel bills.

Qatar Airways confirmed an aircraft had been taken out of service, but said no flights had been cancelled as a result.

"This is a minor issue for us, and not an incident, so we are not commenting," an airline spokesman said.

Two people familiar with the matter, asking not to be identified, told Reuters that smoke had been reported near an electrical compartment while the jet was on the ground in Doha.

A failure in a similar bay caused a fire during a test flight in 2010, and three of the jets, including one owned by Qatar Airways, had electrical problems last December.

A fire-brigade supervisor in Doha said it did not have any record of an incident with an airport-related call last week.

Japan's ANA Holdings Inc, which operates the world's biggest fleet of Dreamliners, also said today it had found damage to the battery wiring on two 787 locator beacons, made by Honeywell International Inc.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing instructed airlines to inspect or remove the beacons, after UK investigators found two wires pinched together in the beacon inside the Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner at Heathrow.

The resulting fire caused extensive damage to the plane.

Last December, three 787s had electrical problems that were made public.

United Airlines experienced problems with electrical panels on two 787s, one of which diverted to another airport during a flight from Houston.

Qatar Airways said that month that it grounded one of its 787 jets because of the same problem United had experienced. Boeing later traced the problem to faulty circuit boards in the panel.

In January, regulators grounded the global fleet of 50 Dreamliners after batteries burned on two jets within two weeks.

Regulators lifted the grounding in April after Boeing redesigned the battery system, which supplies backup power to the jet and is unrelated to the emergency beacon, known as an emergency locator transmitter, or ELT, that is designed to send out a signal to help rescuers locate an aircraft wreckage.

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said in May that the airline had to forego $200million in lost profit because of the grounding of 787 planes, but has received compensation from Boeing for the losses.

At least one other airline says it is still seeking compensation.

Aviation experts say it is common for the reported number of incidents to rise when an aircraft is in the spotlight, and that all new aircraft models have incidents when they first enter service. The 787 went into service in the autumn of 2011.

Even aircraft with decades of service regularly suffer glitches that go unreported and rarely pose a direct threat to safety.

However, aviation experts say U.S. and British authorities investigating the previous fires may try to establish whether anything can be learned from a pattern of reported incidents connected in various ways to the jet's electrical systems.

Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said this week he remained 'highly confident' in the future of the 787 Dreamliner programme and the integrity of the company's newest airplane.

The 787 incorporates a raft of changes in the way passenger jets are designed, including greater use of electrical systems that save weight compared with older hydraulics.

It is the first passenger jet built mainly from lightweight carbon-composites.

Boeing shares were down 0.9 per cent at $105.76 late on Friday morning on the New York Stock Exchange.

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