FAA Reviews Boeing's New Dreamliner, Plane Is Safe To Fly

11:04 AM, Jan 11, 2013   |    comments
Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Getty Images)
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Washington, DC -- The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it's undertaking a comprehensive review of the design and manufacture of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner after a series of problems this week with the celebrated new plane.

The review comes, although FAA chief Michael Huerta said the jetliner is safe for passengers to fly. "We believe this is a safe aircraft," he said.

The announcement -- from Huerta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood -- was made shortly after two Dreamliners flown by All Nippon Airways reported a small oil leak and a cracked cockpit window on separate flights in Japan earlier in the day.

Those incidents follow a fire on a plane on Monday and a fuel leak on another on Tuesday in Boston. On Wednesday, All Nippon canceled a Dreamliner flight because some brake parts needed to be replaced.

"We are concerned about recent events involving Boeing 787," LaHood said. "We will look for root causes of recent events and do everything possible to make sure they don't happen again. We are going to work very hard to get to the bottom of this."

Huerta said 50 planes have been delivered worldwide, with six in the United States. He said the review would focus on electronics. He said the review would be "expeditious," but couldn't say how long it would take.

Boeing -- which began rolling out the new, lightweight plane that's made largely of carbon composites rather than metal in late 2011 -- said it is working with the administration on the review.

Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the Dreamliner completed the most rigorous certification process in history before it was first delivered to the airlines to start flying.

"We have complete confidence in the 787, and so do our customers," Conner says. "Every near airplane has issues as it enters service."

The jetliner is innovative not only because it's made from composites, but because it is the first Boeing plane to use rechargeable lithium ion batteries.

Because lithium batteries aren't commonly used, the FAA had set special safety conditions in 2007 for the plane to prevent overheating.

The fire on Monday involved a lithium-ion battery powering an empty Japan Airlines Dreamliner at Boston's Logan Airport.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the fire, which started in an auxiliary power unit that was running with cleaning and maintenance crews on the plane. The damage to the plane was confined to the area within about 20 inches around the battery in an electronics bay, according to an initial NTSB report.

The latest mishaps appear minor on the surface, but have raised questions about the revolutionary new jet because they've come one after another.

The small fuel leak Tuesday involved a Japan Airlines flight preparing for takeoff at Logan. Japan's All Nippon Airways reported two new problems today on separate flights. The small oil leak in the left engine of one flight didn't prevent the plane from flying from Miyazaki airport to Tokyo. Another plane was grounded for repairs when the airline discovered a cracked cockpit window.

Boeing insists that the Dreamliner's problems are no worse than what 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.

"We are absolutely confident in the reliability and performance of the 787," Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said. "We are working with the FAA and our customers to ensure we thoroughly understand any introductory issues that arise. While we take each issue seriously, nothing we've seen in service causes us to doubt the capabilities of the airplane."

Written By: Bart Jansen, USA Today
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard and The Associated Press.

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