Already bad week just got worse for Boeing's 787

boeing3.jpgThis time it was about 40 gallons of fuel that leaked from a Japan Airlines 787 preparing to take off from Boston to Tokyo. The aircraft, with 178 passengers and 11 crew members, was stopped on a runway and towed back to the gate. On Monday, fire broke out on a JAL 787 that had just landed in Boston from Tokyo (passengers already had exited and there were no injuries). Investigators are focusing on electrical issues that were blamed for other incidents involving the Dreamliner. Meanwhile, United has found improperly installed wiring on one of its 787s, reports the WSJ, citing a source.

United examined electrical components associated with the auxiliary power system, or APU, inside a small compartment underneath the cabin of the Dreamliner, an area known as the aft electrical-equipment bay, the person familiar with the inspections said. The person said United found an improperly installed bundle of wires that connect to the APU battery, equipment that JAL and fire officials said ignited the blaze on the Dreamliner parked at Boston's Logan International Airport after passengers had deplaned.

United has made a big commitment to the 787, including longer-haul runs out of LAX. Last week the carrier began service from L.A. to Tokyo - its first international flight using the new plane. From this week's Business Update on KPCC:

Steve Julian: Isn't there always a shakeout period for new planes, especially when the technology is this new?

Mark Lacter: There is - and there's a lot about this plane that's different. The 787 is a twin-engine wide-body that's made largely from carbon fiber instead of the usual aluminum sheets. These materials make the aircraft lighter and about 20 percent more fuel efficient. Now, airlines with a lot of long-distance runs like the idea because the cost of jet fuel can be so volatile - and at LAX, a quarter of all flights are either to or from international destinations.

Julian: But I guess the electrical components are more sophisticated?

Lacter: That's right, which means a lot more can go wrong, especially in the first few months of commercial service. And with a number of these high-profile incidents, the question is whether airline officials will be comfortable using the plane for extended runs over water. Already, United has delayed the start of 787 service on several long-distance routes, though so far there's no change in the L.A. to Tokyo service.

Julian: It's worth remembering that 2012 was a very safe year for flying.

Lacter: The safest year since 1945 - only 23 accidents around the world, and only two of them in the U.S., resulting in two deaths. Considering there are 37,000 flights around the world each day, that's pretty reassuring. Still, about the last thing Boeing or the airlines want to do is freak out passengers about a plane that in so many ways is an engineering marvel.

File photo

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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