Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Boeing 787 Fire Renews Aviation Safety Concerns

Fire broke out on an empty Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet parked at a gate in Boston on Monday, putting safety concerns about the new, carbon-composite jet back in the spotlight and drawing attention from federal investigators.
Officials said the fire started when a battery in the Japan Airlines jet's auxiliary power system exploded around 10:30 am EST, shortly after passengers deplaned.
A mechanic inspecting the jet discovered smoke in the cockpit while performing a routine post-flight inspection and reported it to authorities at Boston's Logan Airport, officials said.
"Japan Airlines spokeswoman Carol Anderson later said smoke was not discovered in the cockpit. "Smoke was initially discovered by a maintenance staff in the rear end of the cabin, and confirmed by another maintenance staff who also detected smoke outside the aircraft," she said in an email.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are looking into what caused the problem, which came just weeks after Boeing endured a string of other electrical problems that briefly grounded three 787s. The new jet also has suffered an engine failure and fuel leaks in the 14 months it has been in service.
"I don't want to be an alarmist," said Carter Leake, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets in Virginia. "But onboard fires on airplanes are as bad as it gets. Even though it happened on the ground, rest assured the FAA is asking 'What if it happened in the air?'"
The electrical fire is troubling in part because the 787 relies heavily on electrical power to drive onboard systems that in other jet models are run by air pressure generated by the engines. The new jet also suffered an electrical fire during a test flight, prompting a redesign of electrical systems.
Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said, "We are aware of the event and are working with our customer." Other Boeing officials declined to comment.
Japan Airlines did not respond to several requests for comment.
The 787 is Boeing's first jet to be made of carbon composites, a change that lowers the plane's weight and allows it to burn less fuel.
The jet was plagued by production problems that delayed initial delivery by 3-1/2 years. Boeing currently has nearly 800 unfilled orders for the plane and is ramping up production from five per month to 10 a month this year.
Yet since entering service in October 2011, the plane has repeatedly made headlines for mechanical problems.
Last July, the FAA investigated an incident in which a 787 engine made by General Electric blew apart on the ground in South Carolina, prompting changes in how the engines are made, maintained and inspected. A similar engine failed on a Boeing 747 in Shanghai in September.
The 787's run of electrical mishaps began on December 4, when a United Airlines flight from Houston to Newark, made an emergency landing after it appeared that one of its power generators failed. United later said an electrical panel was at fault. On December 13, Qatar Airways said it had grounded one of its three 787 jets because of the same problem United had experienced. On December 17, United said that a second 787 in its fleet had developed electrical issues.
Also in December, the FAA ordered inspections of 787s after fuel leaks were found on two aircraft operated by foreign airlines. The leaks stemmed from incorrectly assembled fuel line couplings, which could result in loss of power or engine fire, the FAA said.
In the latest incident, a fire crew determined that a battery used to power the plane's electrical systems when the engines are not running had exploded. The mechanic was the only person on board the plane when the smoke was discovered and no one was hurt by the blaze.

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