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Boeing 787 Dreamline Incidents Prompt FAA to Make Comprehensive Review

January 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: This week has been a bumpy ride, to say the least, for aviation giant Boeing and its new jet, a week capped by the government’s decision to look closely at the plane’s operating systems again.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: Boeing began delivering its sophisticated new 787 Dreamliner jet to much fanfare 14 months ago, after years of production delays. Now a series of recent incidents has raised concerns about the 50 planes in the air, so much so that, today, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Michael Huerta, announced a comprehensive review.

MICHAEL HUERTA, Federal Aviation Administration: The focus is on the design, production, and manufacture of the airplane. We’re focusing on the electrical systems as the highest level of priority. Our focus is on what the data tells us and what we identify as potential issues there. And based on what we learn, we will take whatever appropriate action is necessary.

MARGARET WARNER: Last month, a United Airlines 787 from Houston to Newark was diverted to New Orleans after one of its six electrical generators failed midflight.

On Monday, a battery fire ignited in an empty Japan Airlines Dreamliner at Boston’s LoganInternationalAirport. Suspicion fell on its high-capacity rechargeable lithium ion batteries containing flammable liquid. And the very next day…

WOMAN: There’s a large amount of fuel spilling from the back of your aircraft.

MARGARET WARNER: … another Japan Airlines 787 at Logan suffered a fuel leak.

Japan’s All Nippon Airways has also reported problems with several of its Dreamliners, from an oil leak and brake issues to cracks in the cockpit window. No one’s been injured in these incidents.

Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing’s commercial aircraft division, voiced confidence in the plane today.

RAY CONNER, Boeing Commercial Aircraft Division: It’s important to emphasize that every new commercial airplane has issues as they enter service, and none of these in-service issues have ever — seen thus far alters our complete confidence in the 787.

MARGARET WARNER: The 787′s innovative design relies heavily on the electrical system to operate its parts, rather than hydraulic controls. It’s also constructed of lightweight composite materials, making it more fuel-efficient.

So far, just eight global carriers are flying 787s. Boeing has 800 more orders, but any major fixes could cause delays. Today, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said there is no reason to ground the planes now in the air.

RAY LAHOOD, secretary of transportation: I believe this plane is safe. And I would have absolutely no reservation of boarding one of these planes and taking a flight. These planes are safe.

MARGARET WARNER: The FAA didn’t announce a timetable for completing its review.