Fuel leak is latest setback for Boeing 787

New York TimesJanuary 8, 2013 

Boeing’s newest and most sophisticated jet, the 787 Dreamliner, suffered a new mishap Tuesday when a fuel leak forced an aircraft to return to its gate minutes before taking off from Boston – a day after an electrical fire had broken out on another plane.

The events were the latest in a series of problems with the 787, which entered commercial service in November 2011 and has been hit by technical and electric glitches since then. Boeing delivered 46 planes last year, more than any analyst had predicted, and has outlined ambitious plans to double its production rate to 10 planes a month by the end of this year.

Much rides on the success of the 787 for Boeing, which expects to sell 5,000 of the planes in the next 20 years. The basic model has a list price of $206.8 million, but early customers typically received deep discounts to make up for the production delays and teething problems. All this means it could be years before Boeing starts recouping its investment costs and turns a profit on the planes.

Shares of Boeing dropped 2.6 percent to $74.13 on Tuesday, extending Monday’s drop of 2 percent.

The 787 makes extensive use of new technology, including a bigger reliance on electrical systems, and is built mostly of lightweight carbon composite materials. While the problems so far do not point to serious design problems with the airplane, they represent an embarrassment to Boeing.

“None of this is a show-stopper, and none of this should signal this product is fundamentally flawed,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at the Teal Group, a consulting firm. “But whether these are design glitches or manufacturing glitches, either way it’s a serious hit to Boeing’s image.”

This week’s incidents affected planes operated by Japan Airlines and took place at Logan International Airport in Boston.

The fuel leak Tuesday was spotted by another pilot as JAL Flight 007, bound for Tokyo, was taxiing and getting ready to take off, said Richard Walsh, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority. The plane was towed back to its gate while the 40-gallon leak was cleaned up.

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