Since two battery meltdowns forced regulators in the United States and Japan to ground Boeing’s (NYSE:BA) Dreamliner fleet in January for three-and-a-half months, the jet maker has fought to rebuild trust in the wide-body plane.
And it has been quite a fight. In July, just several months after 787s around the world returned to the skies, a blaze broke out on an Ethiopian Airlines-operated 787, a “serious event” which caused “extensive heat damage in the upper portion of the rear fuselage” of the jet, according to United Kingdom’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch. The agency’s initial findings showed the fire was sparked by wires in a Honeywell-manufactured (NYSE:HON) emergency locator transmitter.
Many industry experts attribute these incidents to typical “teething problems” of the new passenger plane, but the rash of minor mechanical issues discovered since the 787 resumed operations will not make it any easier for the company to put the worldwide grounding of the Dreamliner in its rearview mirror, especially because problems keep materializing. ANA Holdings (ALNPY.PK) – the operator of the largest fleet of 787 aircraft — found wiring defects in three planes on Wednesday, Bloomberg reports.
“These things happen with a new aircraft,” RBC Capital analyst Robert Stallard told the publication. “When the airlines ground the plane or regulators start becoming involved, then it becomes something to watch out for,” added the analyst, who holds an outperform rating on Chicago-based Boeing. As of August 7, according to the company’s website, the 73 Dreamliners that have been delivered to 13 operators have flown more than 29,000 flights. Currently, Japan is the largest buyer of the jet, and United Continental (NYSE:UAL) is the only U.S. operator of the 787.
Officials discovered the wiring issue in the fire suppression system of an All Nippon Airways-operated 787 Dreamliner waiting to depart Tokyo’s Haneda airport. A spokeswoman for the airline told The Wall Street Journal that the wiring problems in the fire extinguishing units for the plane’s two engines could have meant that the extinguisher in the wrong engine would be activated in the event of a fire. As a result, the carrier delayed the flight nearly two hours, and Japan Airlines (JALFQ.PK) ordered a Helsinki-bound 787 to return to Tokyo in mid-flight. Japan Airlines subsequently inspected all 10 of its Dreamliners but found no other problems.
Boeing, which is still facing the fallout from last month’s incident, will thoroughly examine the second wiring problem and “take the appropriate steps,” Boeing spokesman Rob Henderson told Bloomberg. “The safety of those flying on Boeing airplanes is our top priority.”
After a damaged beacon was linked to the July 12 fire in London, the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch recommended that the United States Federal Aviation Administration “initiate action for making inert” the ELT system in all 787 planes until “appropriate airworthiness” can be determined. The FAA responded with a statement saying it would work with Boeing to develop instructions for the inspections.
Now Boeing must worry whether these minor mechanical problems have coalesced into a large enough issue that sales of the Dreamliner are affected. Both of Japan’s major airlines, Boeing’s two biggest 787 customers, are shopping around for new planes to replace older aircraft, and Boeing’s stumbles could be an opportunity for rival Airbus to grab a bigger portion of the market. In an April interview with the The Wall Street Journal, former JAL Chairman Kazuo Inamori said he was urging executives to consider all plane manufactures fairly.
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