US regulators announced Friday an in-depth safety review of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner after a recent spate of incidents involving the new high-tech aircraft.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it was working with Boeing to fully review the critical systems of the 787, which made its first commercial flight in October 2011 after winning FAA approval.
An unusually high number of safety incidents this week is the latest problem to dog Boeing’s newest aircraft, after production glitches delayed delivery of the first plane to All Nippon Airways by three years.
ANA and Japan Airlines have reported five problems with the Dreamliner since Monday, including a fire in an unoccupied stationary aircraft, a fuel leak from one taxiing in Boston, and a cracked cockpit windshield that grounded one flight in Japan.
“There are concerns about recent events involving the Boeing 787. That’s why today we are announcing that we are conducting a comprehensive review of the design and production of the 787,” US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a news conference.
Considered a milestone in the aviation industry with its use of lightweight composite materials and electronics instead of aluminum and hydraulics, 50 of the US aerospace giant’s 787s are in service worldwide.
But questions about its safety, and now a government review, have the potential to impact Boeing sales. The US aerospace giant has more than 800 787s on order.
Boeing insisted its aircraft are safe. “We have complete confidence in the 787,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Ray Conner said at the news conference called by the FAA to announce the review.
Conner said the aircraft had completed the “most robust certification process ever in the world.”
He dismissed speculation that the problems could have stemmed from Boeing’s ground-breaking choice to assemble the plane using internationally outsourced parts. “These are not an issue of the outsourcing,” he said.
Shares in Dow member Boeing tumbled 3.0 percent to $74.78 in afternoon trade in New York.
FAA chief Michael Huerta said the review would cover the design, manufacture and assembly of the 787, with a focus on electrical systems.
Experts also will review the certification process and Boeing’s implementation of the standards in the certification process.
“What we are seeing are issues of bringing any new technologically advanced product into service,” Huerta said.
“We want to address all of those issues to ensure that people can feel confident flying this airplane,” he said, adding: “We believe this is a safe aircraft.”
Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at Teal Group, welcomed the FAA action. “While it may be difficult for Boeing and its customers up-front, doing the review is necessary for long-term reassurance that the certification system works,” he said.
Aboulafia noted the frequency of incidents was much greater than normal, and reflected the plane’s advanced technologies.
“It also reflects a manufacturing system that may have been pushed too hard and too fast,” he added.
The newest reports follow a series of problems with the 787.
Last July, test engine trouble was the subject of a probe by the US National Transportation Safety Board. The same month, ANA said it was grounding five Dreamliners for repairs because of a defect in the Rolls-Royce engine.
In February, Boeing said around 55 Dreamliners were at risk of developing a fuselage problem.
Rating firm Standard & Poor’s said it was unlikely that Boeing would have to redesign the plane.
“The outcome of the FAA review could range from nothing to requiring Boeing to make minor changes to the design or manufacturing process to, although unlikely, a major redesign,” S&P said.
“Absent a major redesign, we do not believe at this time that the outcome of the review will have a significant impact on the financial profile or liquidity of Boeing.”
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