Boeing defends 787 reliability; shares rally

The Boeing Co. said Wednesday it has “extreme confidence” in the 787 Dreamliner, even as federal investigators try to determine the cause of a fire that has prompted new worries about the plane.

The fire happened Monday in one of the plane’s lithium ion batteries. In a conference call, Mike Sinnett, the chief engineer for the 787, wouldn’t comment on that specific incident but told reporters that the battery is designed to avoid overheating and the area around the battery is designed to withstand a fire.

But questions remain about the high-profile jet, which has a lot riding on it both for Boeing and its airline customers. After a nearly three-year delay, Boeing has delivered 49 of the 787s so far, and has about 800 more on order.

Investors rallied behind the company Wednesday. Boeing shares gained 3.5 percent to $76.76, after dropping 4.6 percent the two previous days.

The Dreamliner has had a rough stretch. Besides Monday’s fire aboard an empty Japan Airlines plane in Boston, a separate JAL 787 experienced a fuel leak on Tuesday. And All Nippon Airways cancelled a domestic 787 flight in Japan Wednesday when a computer system indicated a problem with the plane’s brakes. Last month, a United Airlines 787 flying from Houston to Newark, N.J., diverted to New Orleans because of an electrical problem with a power distribution panel.

Sinnett says the problems Boeing has seen so far with the 787 are similar to early issues with the Boeing 777, which was introduced in the mid-1990s.

The battery fire is of particular interest because lithium batteries generally have not been used on large planes before the 787. Sinnett says the nature of lithium ion batteries means no fire extinguisher system will stop them from burning once they start. The NTSB said it took firefighters 40 minutes to put out Monday’s fire.

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