Japanese airlines are increasingly concerned after a series of recent problems with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, despite plane maker Boeing Co.’s insistence that the midsize wide-body jetliner is safe.
“If problems continue to occur, the Boeing 787 will lose its credibility,” an industry official said.
On Wednesday, Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s chief 787 project engineer, defended the Dreamliner’s performance, saying a fire on board one of the jets operated by Japan Airlines Corp., followed by a fuel leak and braking fault Monday, are teething pains that will be overcome. All new aircraft experience similar technical glitches for the first year or two, he added.
“I am 100 percent convinced the airplane is safe to fly. I fly on it myself all the time,” Sinnett said on a conference call with reporters. “Information will come in, we’ll challenge our assumptions, and if we need to make changes we’ll make those changes and move on. There’s no metrics that scream at me we’ve got a problem, we just need to keep working it hard.”
A Boeing 787 operated by JAL was forced to delay its takeoff from Logan International Airport in Boston on Tuesday after a fuel leak was discovered as it was on the taxiway for its departure. JAL officials explained that the valve between the central and left-wing fuel tanks — that should have been closed — was open. The carrier will launch a full investigation.
The incident came only a day after a small fire occurred on a different JAL-operated Boeing 787 at the same airport. The National Transportation Safety Board in the U.S. has started investigating the cause of the fire.
On Wednesday, an All Nippon Airways Co. Boeing 787 flight bound for Tokyo’s Haneda airport from Yamaguchi Ube airport in Yamaguchi Prefecture was canceled due to a problem with its brake system. ANA is set to carry out an investigation into the problem.
“You can regard this as sort of brand damage in phases,” said Richard Aboulafia, a consultant with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. “But if you are going to see a series of incidents like these, then you’re going to have a second phase of blows to Boeing’s brand — but this time with the traveling public rather than the airlines.”
This is a crucial year for the 787 as Boeing increases deliveries, trying to get out from under the weight of seven delays to the jet’s introduction that spanned more than three years. The firm is set to double 787 production this year to help fill remaining orders for about 800 of the aircraft.
The plane maker has delivered about 50 of the $207 million jets to eight customers: ANA, JAL, Air India, Ethiopian Airlines, Chile’s LAN Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines SA, United Continental Holdings Inc. and Qatar Airways.
JAL currently owns seven Boeing 787 Dreamliners and is planning to introduce 38 more. The company uses the cutting-edge aircraft on its routes linking Narita with San Diego and Moscow. In February, it will introduce the Dreamliner on a new service between Narita and Helsinki.
ANA, the first carrier in the world to introduce the Dreamliner, currently owns 17 of the aircraft and plans to gradually increase this number to 66.
The Boeing 787 has been touted as particularly promising since it allows Japanese airlines to launch nonstop routes to destinations that cannot be reached by other aircraft of the same size.