Fuel leak delays Boeing's Dreamliner

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Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner jet suffered its second mishap in two days on Tuesday, with the same airline and at the same US airport – the latest in a series of setbacks that have heightened safety concerns over the new aircraft.

A fuel leak forced a 787 operated by Japan Airlines (JAL) to cancel take-off at Boston’s Logan International Airport, a day after an electrical fire on another 787 after a JAL flight to Boston from Tokyo.

Asian customers rallied behind the US plane maker, saying that the incidents were glitches that could happen on new planes and confirmed that they had no plans to scale back or cancel orders for the aircraft, which has a list price of $207 million (R1.7 billion).

Japan is by far the biggest customer for the Dreamliner to date, with JAL and All Nippon Airways (ANA) operating a total of 24 of the 49 new planes delivered to the end of last year. The aircraft entered commercial service in November 2011, more than three years behind schedule after a series of production delays.

Boeing has sales orders for 848 of the jumbo jets.

JAL spokesman Kazunori Kidosaki said that the carrier, which operated seven Dreamliners, had no plans to change orders it had placed for another 38 aircraft. ANA, which has 17 Dreamliners flying its colours, said that it was sticking with its orders for another 49 of the planes, spokesman Etsuya Uchiyama said.

State-owned Air India, which on Monday took delivery of the sixth of the 27 Dreamliners it has ordered, said that precautionary measures were already in place and its planes were flying smoothly. “It’s a new plane and some minor glitches do happen. It’s not a cause of concern,” said spokesman G Prasada Rao.

Air China, which sees the 787 as the best plane to expand its international routes, and Hainan Airlines also said that they were keeping their orders for 15 and 10 of the planes, respectively. China Southern Airlines, which has 10 of the 787s on order and should be the first Chinese airline to fly the plane, was not immediately available to comment.

“New airplanes more or less will need adjustments and currently we have no plans to swap or cancel orders,” said an executive at Hainan Airlines, who was not authorised to talk to the media.

Delivery of the aircraft to Chinese carriers has been held up as the local aviation regulator has yet to approve the plane. Hainan Airlines expects to take delivery of its first 787 around the middle of the year – some 10 months late.

Other carriers already flying the Dreamliner are Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Lan Airlines, Lot Polish Airlines and United Airlines, according to Boeing data.

The fuel leak on Tuesday was noticed after the plane had left the gate in preparation for take-off to Tokyo. About 150 litres spilled, and the jet was towed back to the gate, where passengers disembarked, said Richard Walsh, a spokesman for state transportation authority Massport. The plane departed about four hours behind schedule. No passengers or crew were injured in either incident, although firefighters were called out on both occasions.

Boeing shares fell nearly 2.7 percent on Tuesday, following a 2 percent drop on Monday – wiping around $2.8bn off its market value, or more than a dozen Dreamliners at list price. – Alwyn Scott in New York for Reuters


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