UPDATE 1-United 787 diverted mid-flight for mechanical problem

Tue Dec 4, 2012 6:15pm EST

NEW YORK Dec 4 (Reuters) - A brand new United Airlines 787 Dreamliner with 184 people aboard was forced to divert and make an emergency landing in New Orleans on Tuesday after experiencing a mechanical problem on a flight from Houston to Newark.

The pilots of Flight 1146 declared an emergency while in the air. When the plane landed safely around 9:25 a.m. Central Time, fire trucks were on the runway, a standard procedure.

Initial inspections showed that there was no fire in the aft electrical equipment bay, where the problem was reported, and no sign of electrical "arcing," or electricity flowing incorrectly, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Boeing Co is ramping up production of the 787 after more than three years of delays in producing the new jet. While concerns about its safety could affect passenger perceptions and raise issues with deliveries to other airlines, analysts said flight diversions are not unusual, especially with new aircraft.

"These are the typical growing pains one would expect with a new airplane as it enters service," said Carter Leake, a former military and commercial pilot who is now an analyst with BB&T Capital Markets. "No conclusions can be drawn."

Looking at the path of Flight 1146, he noted the plane overflew a closer airport in Jackson, Mississippi, to land in New Orleans, where it could presumably accommodate passengers more easily.

United said the problem occurred with its third 787, delivered Nov. 27, just eight days ago. It carried 174 customers and 10 crew members. The airline put the passengers on other flights to Newark. The airline is due to receive two more 787s this month.

United and Boeing said mechanics were examining the jet, and it was unclear what caused the problem. There was no indication that it was common to other 787s.

"At this point, we're just looking at this specific plane, not the fleet," said Christen David, a United spokeswoman.

United is the first U.S. airline to put the new carbon-composite 787 into service, and flew its first commercial flight with the new jet on Nov. 4.

The flight was scheduled to leave Houston at 7:30 a.m. Central Standard Time, but departed at 8:06 a.m., according to the flight-tracking website Flightaware.com.

It reached a maximum altitude of 41,000 feet at 8:25 a.m. CST. Around 8:40 a.m., the flight began descending and landed in New Orleans at 9:25 a.m., Flightaware.com data show.

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