FAA to probe Boeing's 787 jet

Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times /

SEATTLE — The sweeping safety review of Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner promised Friday by federal regulators ultimately could restore some luster to the new jet’s troubled reputation, industry analysts said.

And they agreed that the inquiry, focused on the design and manufacturing of the jet’s electrical systems, is better than either no action by regulators or a more draconian step, such as temporarily grounding the plane.

“I think this is the proper way to do it before things get out of hand and people’s imaginations run wild,” said aviation industry analyst Adam Pilarski of consulting firm Avitas.

But two former safety regulators said the Federal Aviation Administration’s process in initially certifying the 787 also deserves examination, and an industry observer said the inquiry could slow Boeing’s plan to ramp up production of the jet.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner stood alongside U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta at a high-profile Washington, D.C., news conference as they announced the probe but also declared the plane safe.

The probe was triggered by a series of incidents culminating in a battery fire that broke out in the electronics bay of a parked Japan Airlines 787 in Boston on Monday.

“We are confident about the safety of this aircraft,” Huerta said. “But we are concerned about these incidents and will conduct the review until we are completely satisfied.”

Conner added that “we welcome any opportunity to further reassure people outside the industry about the integrity of the airplane.”

The recent incidents have shaken public confidence in the Dreamliner, Pilarski said.

So it’s positive for Boeing, he said, that “the government is saying that we are reviewing it, but in the meantime it’s safe to fly.”

Boeing has delivered 50 of the planes and says airlines are making about 150 flights daily.

Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the FAA safety review is “a prudent and good step.”

But its details, as well as the resulting report, need to be made public in order to reassure passengers, he said.