Boeing’s Finding Fresh Pain in Japan

Japan Airlines Co. had to replace a Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA) 787 on the first weekend that the newest Dreamliner jet was cleared to fly after being grounded for months.

The airline reported that a sensor indicated a problem with the plane’s battery box. The sensor was triggered by a small amount of tape covering two holes that are used to regulate airflow in the case of a battery fault in the auxiliary power unit. There were no problems discovered related to the battery itself. The plane had flown twice the day before without any issues, Japan Airlines said in a statement.

This comes after the 787 was grounded for four months due to its lithium ion battery system overheating. After the batteries on two 787s operated by Japanese airlines burned, global aviation regulators prohibited 50 Dreamliners around the world from flying. The 787 has only recently been cleared for commercial use around the world after the battery system was fixed.

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Boeing hurried to make safety modifications and get its innovative new jet back in use. Japan Airlines reports that Boeing workers had accidentally left two small pieces of tape over two small holes roughly the size of the tip of a Sharpie marker. The holes allow airflow to help prevent overheating. Because the openings were covered with tape, they caused the sensor to read that the pressure inside and outside of the battery box was different.

Normally such an issue would be considered very minor, but considering previous issues with the 787, the incident has gotten a significant amount of media attention.

Japan Airlines decided to delay the flight and replace the 787 with a Boeing 767-300. The switch took place at Haneda airport in Tokyo. The airline made a point to say that if the flight had taken off with the problem undetected it would not have posed a safety risk, because a line leading from the battery pack container would release built up heat and pressure outside the aircraft if the system overheated.

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The 787 problems Boeing has faced could have damaging repercussions for the company’s dominance in Japan’s biggest fleets. In addition to the scare at Japan Airlines, Boeing workers caused a 787 glitch at All Nippon Airways Co., which is owned by ANA Holdings Inc., earlier in May. This could be bad news for the company if its European rival Airbus starts taking Boeing’s Japanese business. Japan Airlines chairman Kazuo Inamori has said he has asked the company to consider buying Airbus’s A350 when its Boeing 777s need to be replaced. ANA Chief Executive Officer Osamu Shinobe has expressed similar sentiments.

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