Skip to main content

Q&A: Dreamliner woes explained

By Kevin Voigt, CNN
January 18, 2013 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.S. regulators Wednesday ordered airlines to stop flying their Boeing 787s
  • Two fleets of Boeing 787s have been grounded in Japan after one jet made an emergency landing
  • The woes come after the debut of the plane in 2011, nearly three years behind its production schedule
  • About 50 aircraft have been delivered; Boeing has more than 800 unfilled orders from airlines

Hong Kong (CNN) -- The woes of Boeing's new 787 mount as U.S. regulators ordered airlines to stop flying their Boeing 787s.

The U.S. move comes after two fleets of Boeing 787s have been grounded in Japan after alarms and a burning smell in the cabin forced a Dreamliner to make an emergency landing Wednesday.

The incident is the most serious in a spate of problems that have bedeviled the new aircraft, and comes after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for air safety, launched a comprehensive examination on Friday of the Dreamliner's design as well as its manufacture and assembly.

"The Boeing 787 incidents have taken on a new seriousness with the grounding" by All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL), said Richard Quest, CNN's aviation correspondent.

FAA investigates Dreamliner
Japanese airlines ground Dreamliner jets
Dreamliner makes emergency landing
'Teething problems' for Dreamliner

"The potential of fire on board an aircraft is among the most serious issues in aviation," he said. "The plane is still safe to fly. However, Boeing must ensure the reliability of the aircraft for the airlines and the confidence of the traveling public to fly on the planes.

"That is the fundamental problem that Boeing is now facing," Quest said.

U.S. grounds Dreamliners over fire risk

What happened?

As CNNMoney reports, a Boeing 787 operated by All Nippon Airways was forced to make an emergency landing Wednesday in Japan. The domestic aircraft was traveling to Tokyo when irregular battery activity and smoke in the forward electrical compartment were detected. The aircraft then made an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport after a burning smell was detected in the plane's cabin.

Following the incident, both All Nippon and Japan Airlines said they were immediately grounding their Dreamliner fleets -- which effectively grounds about half of the Dreamliners now in operation worldwide. The Japanese airlines were among the first to take delivery of the Boeing 787. ANA has 17 aircraft, while JAL has seven Dreamliners.

Worldwide, Boeing has delivered 50 Dreamliners -- but hundreds more are on order. More than 150 Dreamliner flights occur daily, according to Boeing.

Japanese airlines suspend Dreamliner flights after emergency landing

What problems has the Dreamliner had?

In recent weeks, many. The most recent Dreamliner setbacks occurred Friday. Oil was discovered leaking from a generator on an engine at a Japanese airport, and a crack appeared in a cockpit window of a plane en route from Tokyo to western Japan, a spokeswoman for All Nippon Airways said.

On January 8, a Japan Airlines flight bound for Tokyo aborted takeoff from Boston's Logan International Airport after a pilot on another airplane spotted the 787 leaking fuel. On January 7, a maintenance worker discovered the electrical fire aboard an empty plane being prepared at a gate at Logan for a return trip to Japan. Another Japanese flight was cancelled last week after sensors detected problems with the plane's braking system.

In December, a United Airlines 787 traveling from Houston to Newark, New Jersey, was diverted to New Orleans because of mechanical problems. A general inspection of all 787s in September turned up cracked engines on two planes.

The woes come after the debut of the plane in 2011 -- nearly three years behind its production schedule.

Related: More trouble for Boeing as Dreamliner forced to make emergency landing

Do Dreamliners fly in the U.S.?

United Airlines -- which has six 787s -- debuted the nation's first domestic Dreamliner routes last November. "We continue to have complete confidence in the 787 and the ability of Boeing," United said Friday in a statement. The airline described the problems as "early operational issues."

United's Dreamliner fleet travels primarily on routes connecting Houston and Chicago and between Newark and Los Angeles. Last week, the airline kicked off its first international 787 service between Los Angeles and Tokyo. Other U.S. carriers are in line to buy Dreamliners, including Delta. American Airlines has announced an order, but it's not yet "firm."

What does the troubles mean for Boeing?

The company's stock has taken a hit as the troubles mount. Several hundred are under order, making its success crucial for Boeing, which had not designed a new commercial jetliner in years before unveiling the Dreamliner.

"The 787, being a new airplane, does have teething problems," John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told CNN last week. It's common for new planes to have "these kinds of problems," he added.

Airlines have been excited by the Boeing 787 as the first mid-size, long-range airplane, which would allow airlines to open up routes where they don't have enough demand from passengers to justify a larger plane like a Boeing 747 or an Airbus A380.

Related: How the 787 will change the way we fly

Boeing has more than 800 unfilled orders from airlines around the globe that will take years to fill. In addition to the Dreamliner assembly line at its Seattle-area factory, it built a new 1,000-worker factory in South Carolina to handle the demand. It hopes to double production of the plane this year to about 10 a month.

CNNMoney's Charles Riley and CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki and CNN Wires staff contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1236 GMT (2036 HKT)
Europe's deteriorating relationship with Russia has hit the region's growth, even before new food sanctions begin to bite.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
With cyberattacks on the rise and here to stay, it's a modern-day challenge for people and businesses to get smarter about preventing them.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
Airstrikes, rebels seizing control of oil fields, plus a severe refugee crisis are a recipe for market panic. So why are Iraq oil prices stable?
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
Evidence points to pro-Russian separatists as perpetrators of the attack and Vladimir Putin is facing uncomfortable questions, David Clark writes.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1440 GMT (2240 HKT)
The biggest Ebola outbreak in history is taking its toll in Western Africa, hitting some of West Africa's most vulnerable economies.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 0902 GMT (1702 HKT)
Macau has overtaken Switzerland in the wealth stakes, being named the world's fourth richest territory by the World Bank.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1447 GMT (2247 HKT)
Saudi Arabian Bateel brand is best known for its delectable dates but it now has more than a dozen cafes and a new bakery in the works.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material. It is so dark the human eye can't discern its shape and form.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
Jibo robot is designed to be an organizer, educator and assist family members. CNN's Maggie Lake met him and says she was impressed with his skills.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 2109 GMT (0509 HKT)
American burger joints have sprung up all over London, but how to know which ones are best? CNN's Jim Boulden investigates.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
At the last football World Cup, it was all about 3D. This time around, it's nothing less than 4K.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1058 GMT (1858 HKT)
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
Exotic animals are becoming a profitable business opportunity for Nicaraguan entrepreneurs. CNN's Rafael Romo reports.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
Iraq produces 3.3 million barrels per day and has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves. But the current crisis is putting all this in danger.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
The gas standoff between Russia and Ukraine could have a knock-on effect on Europe. Explore this map to find out why is the EU nervous.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1058 GMT (1858 HKT)
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
The UK capital promotes its tech stars and shows it can compete with Silicon Valley. Here are five companies that pitch to make it big.
ADVERTISEMENT