x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

US officials try to ease fears over Dreamliner

Boeing's largest airline customers voiced their support for the new 787 Dreamliner while the US government moved to assure the public that it is safe to fly.

Boeing's largest airline customers voiced their support for the new 787 Dreamliner while the US government moved to assure the public that it is safe to fly, even as it launched a comprehensive review to find out what caused a fire, a fuel leak and other worrisome incidents last week.

Despite the incidents, the transportation secretary Ray LaHood declared on Friday: "I believe this plane is safe, and I would have absolutely no reservations about boarding one of these planes and taking a flight." Administrator Michael Huerta of the Federal Aviation Administration said his agency had seen no data suggesting the plane is unsafe but wanted the review to find out why safety-related incidents were occurring.

The 787 is the aircraft maker's newest and most technologically advanced airliner, and the company is counting heavily on its success. It relies more than any other modern airliner on electrical signals to help power nearly everything the aircraft does. It is also the first Boeing plane to use rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which charge faster and can be moulded to space-saving shapes compared with other plane batteries. The plane is made with lightweight composite materials instead of aluminium.

Boeing has insisted that the 787's problems are no worse than it experienced when its 777 was new in the mid-1990s. That plane is now one of its top-sellers and is well-liked by airlines.

"Every new commercial aircraft has issues as it enters service," said Ray Conner, the president and chief executive of Boeing's commercial aircraft division, who joined Mr Huerta and Mr LaHood at a Washington news conference.

Some of Boeing's airline customers joined the chorus affirming support for the plane. United Airlines, the only US carrier whose fleet includes the 787, said it has confidence in the airliner and will continue to operate its six 787s as scheduled. Air India said it planned no changes. The Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker called the troubles "minor setbacks". LOT, the Polish airline, said that it has conducted a series of reviews of all systems in both its Boeing 787s. "All the tests were completed positively - the systems are efficient and work well," said the airline.

The FAA's decision to conduct a comprehensive review of the 787 was necessary to reassure the public, said airline analysts.

"Most likely, you're looking a manufacturing issue that will change as they learn to build the aircraft, but there's also the possibility that some systems might need tweaking," said Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. "Either way, we're not looking at anything that undermines the aircraft's long-term prospects, just something that creates a large number of upfront headaches for Boeing and its customers."

A fire ignited last Monday in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit of a Japan Airlines 787 empty of passengers as the plane sat on the tarmac at Boston's Logan International Airport. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze. Also last week, a fuel leak delayed a flight from Boston to Tokyo of another Japan Airlines 787. On Friday, Japan's All Nippon Airways reported two new cases of problems with the aircraft. The airline's spokeswoman, Ayumi Kunimatsu, said a small amount of oil was discovered leaking from an engine of a 787 flight from southern Japan's Miyazaki airport to Tokyo.

Boeing has delivered 50 of the 787s, starting in late 2011, and has orders for nearly 800 more. To get through the backlog, Boeing is ramping up production to build 10 787s per month in Washington state and South Carolina by the end of the year. By comparison, it builds more than one 737, Boeing's bestseller, every day.

* AP