Boeing Delays Dreamliner Test Flights, Shares Drop

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What caused a 787 Dreamliner's emergency landing yesterday remains under investigation. But the incident may cause yet another delay in the program.

In cases like this, not all fires are equal. The investigation should tell Boeing whether it was a piece of conventional equipment involved in the fire or something completely new and unique for the 787. The question now is if it will cause another Dreamliner delay.

Aviation analysts are already speculating Boeing will need to call for another delay in the Dreamliner program. Some analysts were leaning that way before Tuesday's 787 cabin smoke incident. The smoke incident occurred on board the second 787 built.

Boeing 787 spokeswoman Loretta Gunter says the incident happened during a flight test from Yuma, Arizona to Laredo, Texas. Gunter says the plane lost primary electrical power while on approach to the Laredo airport. Backup systems functioned, she says, as expected. Smoke was noticed in the cabin where the flight test engineers and technicians were.

All 42 on board escaped down the emergency slide. Gunter says the electronics bay is underneath the main cabin where systems are routed through. One source familiar with the program says the plane was being tested in warm weather conditions with air conditioning on maximum.

Flight data is already being analyzed in Seattle on the fire's cause. Though the planes are grounded, Boeing isn't saying whether the incident will further delay the program. Wichita-based Spirit Aerosystems builds the forward section of the 787. Spirit has delivered 13 of those sections so far this year.

But Spirit spokeswoman Debbie Gann says production will increase along with the number of employees working the program once the plane starts being delivered to customers. So that's another reason of its importance to Wichita. Folks here are hoping this won't result in more delays.

Boeing shares fell almost 3% in Wednesday trading. The shares dropped $1.85 or 2.7%, to %67.40. In percentage terms, it was the worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial average, the Associated Press reported.

Boeing Statement On 787 Emergency Landing:

During approach to Laredo, Texas, yesterday, airplane ZA002 lost primary electrical power as a result of an onboard electrical fire. Backup systems, including the deployment of the Ram Air Turbine (RAT), functioned as expected and allowed the crew to complete a safe landing. The cause of the fire is still under investigation by Boeing.

The pilots executed a safe landing and at all times had positive control of the airplane and all of the information necessary to perform that safe landing. Initial inspection appears to indicate that a power control panel in the aft electronics bay will need to be replaced on ZA002. We are inspecting the power panel and surrounding area near that panel to determine if other repairs will be necessary.

We have retrieved flight data from the airplane and are analyzing it in Seattle. This process will take several days. We are committed to finding the cause quickly but will not rush the technical team in its efforts.

The team was conducting monitoring of the Nitrogen Generation System at the time of the incident but there is no reason to suspect that the monitoring or earlier testing of that system had anything to do with the incident.

Consistent with our internal processes, until we better understand the cause of the incident on ZA002, we have decided to postpone flight test activities on other airplanes. Ground test activities will be conducted until flight test resumes.

Likewise, we cannot determine the impact of this event on the overall program schedule until we have worked our way through the data. Teams have been working through the night and will continue to work until analysis is complete and a path forward is determined.

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