Boeing engineer says he's confident 787 is safe
By Alwyn Scott, Tim Hepher and Karen Jacobs,ReutersBoeing Co. rolled out the Dreamliner's chief engineer to try to quell concerns about the new jet following three mishaps in as many days, including an electrical fire that caused severe damage to a plane.
January 11, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
At a news conference on Wednesday, the engineer, Mike Sinnett, defended the 787, the world's first plastic plane, and said its problem rates are at about the same level as Boeing's successful 777 jet.
Relatively few technical problems prevent 787s from leaving a gate within 15 minutes of scheduled departure time, he said. “We're in the high 90 percents,” he said. “We're right where the 777 program was” at this stage.
The prevalence of more significant issues, such as a battery fire, is in the same order of magnitude as previous programs, he added. “There's no metrics that are screaming at me that we've got a problem.”
Sinnett explained in detail how the lithium ion battery system that burned on Monday was designed by his team to be safe and prevent smoke getting into the cabin in the event of a fire during a flight. “I am 100-percent convinced that the airplane is safe to fly,” he said.
Asked why smoke entered the cabin on Monday, Sinnett said the plane lacked cabin pressure to expel smoke because it was on the ground. In that scenario, “We expect that there would be sufficient time to evacuate the plane safely,” Sinnett said.
The battery fire, on a 787 jet operated by Japan Airlines (JAL), occurred in Boston on Monday while the empty plane was parked at a gate after passengers had deplaned. That was followed by a fuel leak on another JAL 787 on Tuesday, and by brake problems on an All Nippon Airways 787 that forced the airline to cancel the flight on Wednesday.
These mishaps represent the most serious test of confidence in the Dreamliner since it began flying customers just over a year ago, following more than three years of delivery delays.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are looking into what caused the fire, which came just weeks after Boeing endured a string of other electrical problems that briefly grounded three of the planes. The new jet also has suffered an engine failure and fuel leaks in the 14 months it has been in service.
Sinnett said the electrical faults that occurred in rapid succession in December were traced to a single lot of circuit boards manufactured at one time. He didn't name the supplier.