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Boeing sticks to production plans, battery for 787

A Boeing employee worked on the final assembly stage of a 737 airplane at the company’s assembly facility in Renton, Wash., earlier this week.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

A Boeing employee worked on the final assembly stage of a 737 airplane at the company’s assembly facility in Renton, Wash., earlier this week.

Boeing is sticking with plans to speed up production of its 787 and sees no reason to drop the troubled lithium-ion batteries at the center of the plane’s problems, chief executive Jim McNerney said Wednesday.

A fire and emergency landing earlier this month, both involving the batteries, prompted regulators to ground Boeing’s newest and highest-profile plane.

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All Nippon Airways said Wednesday that it replaced batteries 10 times before the overheating problems surfaced earlier this month. McNerney said airlines have been replacing 787 batteries at a rate that’s ‘‘slightly higher’’ than Boeing had expected. They’ve all been replaced for maintenance reasons, not for safety concerns, he said on a conference call.

Boeing said about 2,000 batteries of all types are replaced every year on its various planes.

US aviation officials said they have asked Boeing for a full operating history of the batteries on the 787s.

McNerney said ‘‘good progress’’ is being made in finding the cause of the problems. But he didn’t have a timeline for when the plane would get back in the air.

The 787 lists for more than $200 million each, although discounts are common. Boeing has said it gets some 60 percent of the purchase price at the time of delivery.

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From the outside, the 787 looks more or less like other planes at the airport. But the guts of the thing are completely different. The body is mostly carbon fiber — sort of a high-tech plastic — rather than aluminum. Electricity powers things on the 787 that would be fed by moving air on other planes. All that new technology took years of engineering to develop.

Boeing hasn’t said how much it cost. Barclays Capital analyst Carter Copeland estimated that Boeing spent some $30 billion to $40 billion developing the 787. The whole company is worth about $56 billion. The 787 is ‘‘massively important’’ to Boeing, he said.

Boeing is still building 787s even though it has halted deliveries to customers. It’s on track to ramp up production from five per month now to 10 per month by year end, McNerney said. He declined to talk discuss the possibility that regulators will require a complex fix that delays production.

Investigators are still trying to find out what caused the two battery incidents that grounded the 787. But McNerney said the company has learned nothing that makes him think they made a mistake in picking lithium-ion batteries.

The company declined to say how many of the batteries have been replaced. But Japan’s All Nippon Airways said it had replaced batteries some 10 times because they didn’t keep a charge properly or connections failed. Japan Airlines also said it had replaced some 787 batteries.

Among US airlines, only United flies 787s. United Continental Holdings Inc. spokeswoman Christen David declined to say on Wednesday whether it has replaced batteries on any of its six planes.

On Wednesday, Boeing reported a 2012 profit of $3.9 billion, or $5.11 per share, last year, a 3 percent decline from 2011. Revenue rose 19 percent to $81.7 billion. Shares of Chicago-based Boeing rose 94 cents to close at $74.59.

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