Business, Economics and Jobs

What's wrong with the Boeing Dreamliner?


A Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by All Nippon Airways (ANA) sits on the tarmac after an emergency landing at Takamatsu Airpirt in Takamatsu, west of Japan, on January 16, 2013. Japan's two biggest airlines on January 16 grounded all their Dreamliners in the most serious blow yet to Boeing's troubled next-generation model after an ANA flight was forced into an emergency landing.



The new Boeing Dreamliner has received much unwelcome publicity in the past few weeks, as various worrisome incidents involving the huge new airplanes unnerved airlines and transportation officials alike — to say nothing of the flying public.

Now a forced landing has prompted both Japan Airlines and ANA to ground all their Dreamliners for the time being, and many are wondering if the new plane's problems present more than the usual "growing pains" that new equipment tends to experience.

Let's take a look at some of the problems plaguing the Dreamliner.

1. Fuel leaks

On Dec. 5, US regulator realized that the 787 contained a manufacturing fault in the fuel lines and advised airplane operators to conduct extra inspections.

Their predictions proved true: on Jan. 8, a 787 Dreamliner operated by JAL began leaking fuel in Boston due to an open valve, forcing the flight to take off later than planned and prompting a US investigation into the problem.

Read more from GlobalPost: Japanese airlines ground Boeing 787s after more problems

Inspections of the plane found it had the same electrical wiring issues that likely contributed to the January 7th electrical fire, also at Boston's Logan airport.

The same airplane began to leak fuel on Jan. 13 in Japan during maintenance checks. Inspectors concluded that “fuel from a nozzle on the left wing used for discharging fuel leaked out," according to the Japan Times.

The airplane lost about 26 gallons of fuel in the incident, and it was later found that a valve was unexpectedly open, the same issue that had plagued the plane in Boston.

2. Battery Problems

The Jan. 15 case was caused by "irregular battery activity" according to CNN, and the plane was forced to turn around and make an emergency landing when a worrisome burning smell was detected in the pilot's cabin, as well as smoke. Investigation results are undoubtedly forthcoming.

In perhaps the most disturbing previous Dreamliner incident, an auxiliary power system battery exploded and caught on fire in a parked 787 in Boston on Jan. 7. The National Transportation Safety Board released some distinctly worrying photos of the charred box on Monday, and investigations into the incident are continuing.

3. Broken Cockpit Window

The cockpit window on a Dreamliner suddenly presented with a 3-foot-long crack on Jan. 11, soon before it reached its destination in Matsuyama, Japan. The plane landed safely and was swiftly repaired, says Reuters. So far, so good.

What happens in the event of one's pilot being suddenly sucked out of a cracked cockpit window? Such an unlikely incident actually took place on British Airways, back in 1990 — although, unbelievably enough, everyone survived.

4. Electrical Problems

Electrical issues seem to make up the bulk of the reported issues with the Dreamliner in recent weeks, beginning with the Dec. 4 emergency landing of one of the planes in New Orleans, according to the San Jose Mercury News. 

Read more from GlobalPost: Boeing has 'extreme confidence' in Dreamliner despite third mishap this week

The same problem cropped up on Dec. 13 in a Qatar Airways-owned Dreamliner, forcing the airline to temporarily ground the plane — and prompting Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al Baker to release some rather harsh words on the situation to the media, wrote the BBC.

Then came December 17th, when United Airlines reported an electrical issue in one of its own Dreamliner planes.

5. Brake Problems and Oil Leaks

An ANA domestic flight in Japan had to be canceled on January 9th when the plane began to have brake problems, that appeared to be caused by a computer glitch, according to the Associated Press.

That's not all: on Jan. 11, a 787 began leaking oil from its left engine while at a southern Japanese airport, writes CNN Money — an incident that occured on the same day that the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the Dreamliner fleet.