Sunday 21 December 2014

Boeing won't axe Dreamliner battery

Published 31/01/2013 | 02:05

A line of 787 jets are parked at Paine Field in Everett, Washington (AP/Elaine Thompson)

Boeing has said it would continue to speed up production of its 787 and saw no reason to drop the troubled lithium-ion batteries at the centre of the plane's problems.

A fire and emergency landing earlier this month, both involving the batteries, prompted regulators to ground Boeing's newest and highest-profile plane, known as the Dreamliner.

All Nippon Airways said on Wednesday that it replaced batteries 10 times before the overheating problems surfaced earlier this month.

Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said airlines had been replacing 787 batteries at a rate "slightly higher" than Boeing had expected. They had all been replaced for maintenance reasons, not safety concerns, he said on a conference call. Boeing said about 2,000 batteries of all types were replaced every year on its various planes.

US aviation chiefs have asked Boeing for a full operating history of the batteries on the 787s.

Mr McNerney said "good progress" was being made in finding the cause of the problems, but could not say when the plane would get back in the air.

The 787 lists for more than 200 million dollars (£127.3 million) each, although discounts are common.

Boeing has said it gets around 60% of the purchase price at the time of delivery, therefore deliveries are important to the plane-maker's cash flow, even though the planes themselves are money-losers for now because they still cost more to build than their eventual sale price. Boeing projects that it will eventually break even on the 787.

From the outside, the 787 looks more or less like other planes at the airport, but its guts are completely different. The body is mostly carbon fibre rather than aluminium and electricity powers functions on the 787 that would be fed by moving air on other planes - new technology that took years to develop.

Boeing has not said how much it cost, but Barclays Capital analyst Carter Copeland estimated that it spent about 30-40 billion dollars developing the 787 when the whole company is worth about 56 billion dollars. The 787 is "massively important" to Boeing, Mr Copeland says.

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