July 13, 2013

Boeing stocks plunge following fire aboard a 787

Investors fear a recurrence of problems with the batteries.

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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An Air Ethiopian 787 Dreamliner sits at Heathrow Airport in London on Friday after a fire started on board the empty aircraft. Boeing, maker of the 787, saw its stock dive largely on investors’ concerns about the plane’s lithium-ion batteries.

The Associated Press

Airplanes routinely return to the airport for minor technical problems. United Airlines recently had several minor problems with oil leaks on the 787, forcing emergency landings. The maintenance issues, which often also happen on other jets, received extra scrutiny because of the 787's problems.

The 787 is one of the most innovative commercial aircraft in the skies today.

Half of its structure is made of plastics reinforced with carbon fiber, a composite material that is both lighter and stronger than aluminum. In another first, the plane relies on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries to start its auxiliary power unit, which provides power on the ground or if the main engines quit.

Problems with those batteries ultimately led to the grounding in January of the 50 Dreamliners flying at the time.

First, a battery ignited on a Japan Airlines 787 shortly after it landed at Boston's Logan International Airport on Jan. 7. Passengers had already left the plane, but it took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze.

Problems also popped up on other planes. There were fuel and oil leaks, a cracked cockpit window and a computer glitch that erroneously indicated a brake problem.

Then a 787 flown by Japan's All Nippon Airways made an emergency landing after pilots were alerted to battery problems and detected a burning smell. Both Japanese airlines grounded their Dreamliner fleets. The FAA, which just days earlier insisted that the plane was safe, did the same with U.S. planes on January 16.

It was the first time the FAA had grounded a whole fleet of planes since 1979, when it ordered the DC-10 out of the sky following a series of fatal crashes.

The FAA eventually approved a plan by Boeing to better insulate the battery's eight cells and the addition of a new containment and venting system.

 

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