Boeing CEO confident in Dreamliner

Jan. 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM   |   Comments

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CHICAGO, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Boeing Co. Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney says he is confident the U.S. company can soon return the grounded 787 Dreamliner to service.

The Federal Aviation Administration took the rare step this week of grounding the entire fleet of the new jet after a series of incidents in which Dreamliners have been forced to make emergency landings or react to smoking-filled planes on the ground due to problems with lithium batteries.

The New York Times reported Saturday the FAA has not grounded an entire fleet of planes since 1979, when it ordered the cessation of McDonnell Douglas DC-10 flights after a crash.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner was launched in 2011 after the initial delivery date was postponed by more than three years due to a series of production and engineering setbacks.

In a memo sent Friday to company employees, McNerney said: "Despite the negative news attention over the past several days, I remain tremendously proud of the employees across the company for the decade of effort that has gone into designing, developing, building and delivering the most innovative commercial airplane ever imagined."

McNerney noted the Dreamliner has been in service for 15 months, during which time it has "completed 18,000 flights and 50,000 flight hours with eight airlines, carrying more than 1,000,000 passengers safely to destinations around the world."

The Hill newspaper reported McNerney considered the Dreamliner's launch to be "on par with the best-in-class introduction of the 777," although he added, "We will not be satisfied until the 787 meets the even higher standard of performance we set for it and promised to our customers."

Analysts say the setback could take weeks to correct if it's a local problem or it could takes months to fix if it involved the entire electrical system in the jets.

CNN reported that grounding the entire Dreamliner fleet was reflective of the "zero tolerance" for safety risks that has contributed to an improved crash record for U.S. airlines -- which have not experienced a fatal incident since a February 2009 passenger jet crash in Buffalo, N.Y.

The Dreamliner incidents have been comparatively minor, but alarming. In one recent incident, one of the plane's two lithium batteries caught fire in a plane with no passengers on board, while crews in Boston were getting the plane ready for a flight. In the other incident, also involving a lithium battery, a plane was forced to make an emergency landing after a smoke alarm in the cockpit went off.

Jets owned by Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, United Airlines and Qatar Airways have all had similar problems, CNN reported.

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