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FAA To Review New 787 Dreamliner After Spate Of Problems


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Boeing's celebrated but troubled jumbo jet, the 787 Dreamliner, has been having more troubles. And today, the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation said they will review the plane's design, manufacturing and assembly. This comes after a series of problems, including a fuel leak and a battery fire. Here's Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood speaking on a conference call today.

SECRETARY RAY LAHOOD: We will look for the root causes of recent events and do everything we can to ensure these events don't happen again.

BLOCK: NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this story about what the government review means.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: When it launched the aircraft three years ago, Boeing hosted global Dream Tours of the 787.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: An around-the-world flight that set records for speed and distance for its weight class. In just...

NOGUCHI: It had been more than 15 years since a new aircraft had gone through a regulatory certification process that requires some 200,000 hours of tests. Regulators took pains to stand by the safety of the airplane, at the same time acknowledging it wanted to delve deeper into recent incidents. Boeing executives compared the 787's recent stumbles to teething problems, standard growing pains of a young plane. Richard Aboulafia is a vice president with Teal Group, an aviation analysis firm.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: This is a much greater level of troubles than are typical. But on the other hand, there are a lot more new, innovative technologies on board.

NOGUCHI: Aboulafia says the plane relies on more complex electrical systems that use lithium-ion batteries and is built of a new carbon-fiber composite. Also, following a three-year production delay, Boeing rapidly ramped up assembly, much of which was outsourced. Aboulafia says any of these factors could be contributing to the hiccups.

ABOULAFIA: I think plane was in danger going from buzzed to concern in the minds of the traveling public. And upfront, a review like this only heightens those anxieties. But on the other hand, it's really important to make certain that people know that everything is being handled.

NOGUCHI: Carter Leake is senior equity analyst with BB&T Capital Markets. Leake says, likely, the 787's problems won't threaten public safety. Part of the problem, he says, is that the 787 is such a high-profile plane, its stumbles attract scrutiny that other planes wouldn't.

CARTER LEAKE: If you were to look around the world any given day, there are failures for gear to come down, engine failures. This is a normal course of business. You just don't hear about it.

NOGUCHI: He says the review is still a headache for Boeing, which will have the FAA looking over its shoulder. The company will also have to appease its airline customers, which, in addition to safety, care about keeping their planes running on time.

Have you ever flown on one of these?

LEAKE: I have not. I have not.

NOGUCHI: Would you?

LEAKE: I would. I would. You know, I was a former military and commercial pilot and also ran a small airline. So I get how airplanes behave, and I fully understand, you know, the redundancy built in. So I'm comfortable with it and really so should the public.

NOGUCHI: The FAA did not say how long its review might take. It will depend on what the investigation uncovers. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.