The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered a comprehensive review of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner after a fire and a fuel leak aboard two aircraft at Logan International Airport earlier this week, but the action is not expected to have an immediate impact on Japan Airlines’ daily Boston-Tokyo flight.
“There is no plan at this stage for any changes to our 787 routes or orders of the aircraft,” said Japan Airlines spokeswoman Carol Anderson.
Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, said at a news conference Friday that there is nothing in the data the agency has seen to suggest the plane isn’t safe, but he remains concerned about recent incidents.
“We’re focusing on the electrical systems as the highest level of priority,” he said.
The review will examine the 787’s critical systems, including design, manufacture, and assembly, as well as the interaction between the electrical and mechanical systems on the plane. The FAA gave no indication that the agency intends to limit or prohibit the 787 from flying during the review.
“I believe this plane is safe, and I would have absolutely no reservations about boarding one of these planes and taking a flight,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The FAA declined to say if this kind of comprehensive review had been done in the past. The undertaking is fairly remarkable but was necessary to reassure the public, airline analysts said.
“Most likely, you’re looking at 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, Va. “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 small fire ignited in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit on an empty Japan Airlines 787 at Logan on Monday, knocking out Boston’s only flight to Asia. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze. On Tuesday, a Japan Airlines 787 at Logan was temporarily grounded after spilling 40 gallons of fuel while awaiting takeoff.
The Dreamliner, Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced plane, is made of lightweight composite materials instead of aluminum and relies more than any other modern airliner on electrical signals to help power nearly everything the plane does. It’s also the first Boeing plane to use rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which charge faster and can be molded to space-saving shapes compared with other airplane batteries, but are also more susceptible to fire because, unlike other aircraft batteries, the liquid inside of them is flammable.
The first 787s entered service in late 2011, and have since been hampered by high-profile problems. On Dec. 5, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered inspections of all Dreamliners in service at the time after receiving reports of fuel leaks on two aircraft operated by foreign airlines. That led to discovery of incorrectly assembled fuel couplings that could result in fuel leaks and lead to loss of power or fire, said the FAA, though the issues at Logan appeared to be unrelated.
Boeing is also investigating electrical issues on the 787 after incidents involving at least four aircraft, including a United Airlines flight from Houston to Newark that was diverted to New Orleans last month after experiencing a midflight electrical problem.
On Friday, Japan’s All Nippon Airways reported two new cases of problems with the aircraft. ANA spokeswoman Ayumi Kunimatsu said a very small amount of oil was discovered leaking from the left engine of a 787 flight from southern Japan’s Miyazaki airport to Tokyo.
The jet returned to Miyazaki, but after checks found no safety risk, it flew to Tokyo. ANA said on another flight, to Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku, glass in a cockpit window cracked and the aircraft was grounded for repairs.
A Boeing official said the company is working with the FAA. “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.”
Aviation experts say new plane models typically experience glitches when they first start flying, although the 787 may be more prone to issues because it is so technologically advanced.
Boeing has insisted that the 787’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.
Boeing has delivered 50 of the 787s, starting in late 2011, and has orders for nearly 800 more.