Battery in one plane explodes followed by fuel leak in another, both at Boston airport and owned by Japan Airlines
Two Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes have been the subject of safety scares within two days at Boston airport in the US, adding to concerns about the aircraft.
On Monday, an electrical fire erupted on one of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners operated by Japan Airlines at Boston Logan international airport. Authorities said a battery in the auxiliary power unit aboard the plane jet had suffered “severe fire damage”.
On Tuesday at the same airport, a fuel leak forced a different 787 operated by JAL to cancel takeoff. Massachusetts Port Authority spokesman Richard Walsh said the plane was towed back to the gate after about 150 litres (40 gallons) of fuel spilled. He said the plane had 178 passengers and 11 crew members on board. Walsh said the plane was evaluated and departed that afternoon. A JAL spokeswoman said the crew had reported a “mechanical issue”.
The two incidents have extended a series of problems that have dogged the jet for more than a month and increased concern about the plane.
The fire broke out on an empty Dreamliner jet parked at a gate in Boston. Officials said a battery in the auxiliary power system exploded around 10.30am, shortly after passengers had disembarked. A mechanic inspecting the jet discovered smoke while performing a routine post-flight inspection.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are looking into what caused the problem, which came within weeks of Boeing enduring 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.
The electrical fire is troubling in part because the 787 relies heavily on electrical power to drive onboard systems that in other jet models are run by air pressure generated by the engines. The new jet also suffered an electrical fire during a test flight, prompting a redesign of electrical systems.
Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said on Monday: “We are aware of the event and are working with our customer.”
The Dreamliner is Boeing’s first jet to be made of carbon composites rather than aluminium, a change that reduces the plane’s weight and allows it to use less fuel.
Since entering service in October 2011 the plane has repeatedly made headlines for mechanical problems. In July 2012, the FAA investigated an incident in which a 787 engine made by General Electric Co blew apart on the ground in South Carolina, prompting changes in how the engines are made, maintained and inspected. A similar engine failed on a Boeing 747 in Shanghai in September.
The Dreamliner’s run of electrical mishaps began on 4 December 2012 when a United Airlines flight from Houston to Newark, New Jersey, made an emergency landing after it appeared that one of its power generators failed. United later said an electrical panel was at fault. On 13 December Qatar Airways said it had grounded one of its three 787 jets because of the same problem. On 17 December, United said a second 787 in its fleet had developed electrical issues.
Also in December, the FAA ordered inspections of 787s after fuel leaks were found on two aircraft operated by foreign airlines. The leaks stemmed from incorrectly assembled fuel line couplings, which could result in loss of power or engine fire, the FAA said.
In late December, the Boeing chief executive, Jim McNerney, said the 787 had not experienced an unusual number of problems for a new aircraft, calling the problems “normal squawks”.
The jet was plagued by production problems that delayed its initial delivery by three and a half years. Boeing has nearly 800 unfilled orders for the plane and is ramping up production from five a month to 10 a month this year.
JAL has ordered a total of 45 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, including seven it is already operating. Morito Takeda, a JAL spokesman, said six of those seven aircraft were flying as usual. The seventh remained at Boston Logan airport.
All Nippon Airways, which has placed orders for 66 Dreamliner aircraft including 17 that are already operating, also had no plans to change its orders, said spokesman Etsuya Uchiyama.
Japan’s transport ministry has ordered inspections of batteries made by Yuasa for the auxiliary power unit. JAL inspected six of the units and found no problems.
Shares of the batteries’ maker, Japan’s GS Yuasa Corp, fell sharply for a second day on Wednesday after the fire.