Why Boeing's dream plane is causing headaches
Boeing's Dreamliner has had a nightmare of a week, capped off Friday with a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration to review everything from the design to manufacturing of the new airplane.
Government officials were quick to say that the plane is safe — nearly 50 of them are in the skies now. However, a fire Monday and subsequent spate of technical problems raised enough questions to prompt this highly unusual review. None of the airlines using the 787, nicknamed by Boeing the Dreamliner, have plans to stop flying it during the government's inquiry.
The technologically advanced plane was delayed for more than three years. Boeing delivered the first one in late 2011. The company is ramping up production to build 10 787s per month in Washington state and South Carolina by the end of the year.
The Dreamliner promises passengers a more comfortable travel experience. For the airlines, the plane's fuel-efficiency allows them to economically connect secondary cities.
Below are questions and answers about the 787 and the issues that led to the FAA's action Friday.
Q: Why is the FAA reviewing the 787?
A: The battery pack on a Japan Airlines 787 ignited Monday shortly after the flight landed at Boston's Logan International Airport. Passengers had already left the plane but it took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze. There were separate issues on other planes this week — fuel and oil leaks, a cracked cockpit window and a computer glitch that erroneously indicated a brake problem.
Q: Is the plane safe?
A: "I believe this plane is safe and I would have absolutely no reservations about boarding one of these planes and taking a flight," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday. Boeing insists that the 787's problems are no worse than what it experienced when its 777 was new in the mid-1990s. That plane is now one of its top-sellers and is well-liked by airlines.
Q: What's different about the 787?
A: Half of the 787 is made from carbon fiber composites which are lighter but stronger than the aluminum used in traditional planes. That means the plane burns less fuel, a big selling point because fuel is an airline's biggest expense. The extra strength allows for larger windows and a more comfortable cabin pressure. Composites don't rust like aluminum, so the humidity in the cabin humidity can be up to 16 percent, double a typical aircraft. That means fewer dry throats and stuffy noses.
Q: Does any other plane use composites?
A: Composites are used in smaller amounts on most modern planes. Rival plane maker Airbus is designing its own lightweight composite jet, the A350, but that jet is still several years away from flying.
Q: How many 787s are there?
A: Boeing has delivered 50 planes so far. Another 798 are on order. The company plans to be building 10 each month by the end of this year.
Q: Who flies the 787?
A: Japan's All Nippon Airways is the largest operator of the plane. United is the first U.S. airline customer with six. Air India, Ethiopian Airlines, Japan Airlines, LAN Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines and Qatar Airways also fly the plane.
AP writers Joshua Freed in Minneapolis and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.