OLD Media Moves

Boeing’s 787 headache

January 21, 2013

Posted by Liz Hester

The news reports about troubles with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner have been abundant since the fleet was grounded. Two separate incidences – one in the U.S. and one in Japan – led to regulators stopping the planes from flying on Jan. 16.

And Boeing is still in the news.

On Sunday, the U.S. investigation released additional findings. Here’s the story from the New York Times:

Federal investigations said Sunday that they had ruled out excessive voltage as the cause of a battery fire on a Boeing 787 in Boston this month, widening the mystery into what led to the grounding of the world’s most technologically advanced jet after a second battery-related problem last week.

With investigators focused on the plane’s lithium-ion batteries, the National Transportation Safety Board said an examination of the data from the plane’s flight recorder indicated that the battery “did not exceed the designed voltage of 32 volts.” The fire aboard a Japan Airlines plane on Jan. 7 at Logan International Airport in Boston occurred after the passengers had gotten off.

Last week, a battery problem on another 787 forced an All Nippon Airways jetliner to make an emergency landing in Japan. That episode prompted aviation authorities around the world to ground the plane, also known as the Dreamliner. The Federal Aviation Administration said last week that it would not lift the ban until Boeing could show that the batteries were safe.

The safety board did not address the grounding issue or provide a timetable for its investigation, which industry experts said could take months.

But with investigators on a global quest to find out what went wrong, the safety board’s statement could mean that there might not be a rapid resumption of 787 flights. The 787 first entered service in November 2011 after more than three and a half years of production delays. Eight airlines currently own 50 787s, including United Airlines.

Bloomberg Businessweek ran an excellent graph of how the troubles are affecting Boeings suppliers. I like that instead of writing paragraphs about how much their stock prices dropped, they show the different components and the decline. It’s highly effective.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Boeing had to formally suspend deliveries of new 787s since they can’t test them. They also added this information:

As part of its expanding probe, the safety board also is looking at external factors. On Sunday it said investigators already have examined wiring, circuit boards and other battery-related components removed from the aircraft. Investigators also intend to test components that feed power into the battery, according to the update.

On Tuesday, according to the NTSB, a group of safety experts will meet in Arizona “to test and examine the battery charger,” which is manufactured there by Secureplane Technologies Inc., a unit of Meggitt PLC.

The safety board took the unusual step of releasing an update to its 787 investigation just after midnight, during a three-day weekend including a federal holiday. The world-wide grounding of Boeing 787s is now stretching into its fifth day, as the company and U.S. and Japanese investigators work to find the causes of the two incidents.

Forbes contributors and staff writers have also been prolific on the topic. Some of the stories have been too long and haven’t hit the point of their headlines, such as this one about Boeing having a public relations problem. While the story might not actually specify the problem, it is a nightmare.

The more journalists continue to write about this, the worse it’s going to be. Boeing’s problem is that they’re unlikely to comment on ongoing investigations and they’re in a tough spot given how much press the Dreamliner got when it was first introduced. The only thing they can really do is hope the investigations find easy solutions to the problem and absolve the company of any knowledge of issues with the planes.

No matter what happens, I’m sure there will be more ink on the topic before it’s all over.

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