* Dreamliner reliability 98 pct
* Further progress in reliability will be slower
* New report of electrical power panel problem emerges
By Balazs Koranyi and Joachim Dagenborg
OSLO, Jan 24 The reliability of Boeing's
pioneering 787 Dreamliner jet is improving but is still not
satisfactory, the planemaker's top official in charge of keeping
the jet flying said on Friday.
The Dreamliner's reliability rate is now around 98 percent,
meaning two out of every 100 flights are delayed for mechanical
problems - up from 97 percent in October but still short of the
firm's target, said Mike Fleming, vice president for 787 support
He was speaking at a news conference in Oslo where Norwegian
Air Shuttle ASA, one of the jet's most publicly
critical customers, has faced a series of glitches.
"I'll tell you that's not where we want the airplane to be,
we're not satisfied with that reliability level of the
airplane," Fleming said.
"The 777 today flies at 99.4 percent ... and that's the
benchmark that the 787 needs to attain.
"We introduced the 777 in 1995 and it was in the 1999
timeframe that we saw sustained performance over 99 percent in
that fleet ... to get the fleet above 99 percent you have to
keep working every day, so my guess is that it will be similar
to what we had with the 777," he added.
Norwegian Air Shuttle, the only European budget carrier to
fly long haul, has been plagued by problems with its first three
Dreamliners, with a series of breakdowns last year leaving
The Dreamliner was supposed to be a game-changer for the
aviation industry as its lighter body and electrical systems cut
fuel consumption by 20 percent and reduced maintenance.
But it has been beset by problems including a battery fire
that grounded all 787s in service for three months last year and
forced Boeing to re-design the powerful lithium-ion battery and
enclose it in a tough new steel containment box.
It also equipped the battery with a metal exhaust tube to
vent fumes and gases outside the jet if the battery were to
Earlier this month, a Japan Airlines maintenance crew
noticed white smoke coming from the main battery of a
Dreamliner, with a cell found to be showing signs of melting
just two hours before the plane was due to fly.
"We recently had a single-cell failure in a battery on
another customer's airplane and we didn't get propagation of
that to other cells, other cells continued to function," Fleming
said. "The containment box worked as supposed to and the vapour
vented overboard as supposed to."
Fleming said the battery has not suffered an in-flight
failure since the redesign and Boeing could still change the
battery's design based on the conclusions of the investigation
into the latest incident.
"We didn't assume we would never have another cell failure.
We always assume we're going to have a failure and we design the
airplane with a redundancy," Fleming said.
Other issues on the Dreamliner still facing Boeing include
the reliability of flight controls, particularly for the wing
spoilers, brakes and electrical power components.
Although attention has focused on the aircraft's batteries,
its electrical components are part of an ongoing survey of its
critical systems by the Federal Aviation Administration,
following suspected faults that first surfaced before the
Last July, Reuters reported that a 787 operated by Qatar
Airways was grounded for days after smoke was reported near an
electrical panel, which was replaced. Boeing at the time
referred queries to the airline, which denied any serious fault.
In a previously unreported incident, Ethiopian Airlines has
told Reuters that an electrical panel had to be replaced shortly
after its first 787 was delivered in August 2012.
Boeing declined to comment on specific incidents.
"We've made it clear that improving component reliability is
part of our effort to improve overall dispatch reliability and
those efforts are making a difference - with the overall
fleet-wide average now at around 98 percent," said spokesman
Marc Birtel by email, in response to a Reuters query.
"That's the metric we're focused on and we're not going to
break things down component by component or customer by
customer," he added.
An FAA spokeswoman said earlier this month that it was not
clear when the broader systems review would be complete.
Many aircraft including some produced by European rival
Airbus suffer reliability problems or defects in early
service, but Norwegian is among airlines that have been
particularly vocal about recurrent problems with the 787.
"When our airplane breaks and our service doesn't deliver on
what it's supposed to, we take responsibility," Fleming said. He
declined to discuss the issue of compensation.
Boeing, which says it upgraded various systems during last
year's grounding, has avoided serious industrial consequences
from the 787's recent troubles and said on Friday it had hit a
targeted 787 output rate of 10 jets a month.