By Alwyn Scott
NEW YORK, Jan 8 (Reuters) - A fuel leak forced a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner operated by Japan Airlines to cancel takeoff and return to the gate at Boston’s Logan International Airport Tuesday, a fire official said. It was the second incident in two days involving the new jet.
The 787 in the previous incident experienced an electrical fire Monday at Logan, said Richard Walsh, a Massport spokesman. That plane also was operated by Japan Airlines.
The plane leaking fuel had left the gate in preparation for takeoff on a flight to Tokyo when the spill of about 40 gallons was discovered, Walsh said. No fire or injuries occurred, he said.
The Dreamliner was towed back to the gate, where passengers disembarked and were waiting for a decision on the status of the flight, he said.
“The airline will make that determination,” Walsh said.
A Japan Airlines spokeswoman, Carol Anderson, said the plane returned to the gate because of a mechanical issue, but said exact details were yet to be confirmed.
Boeing said it was aware of the issue and was working with its customer. Boeing stock dropped 3.8 percent to $73.24 in afternoon trading, following a 2 percent decline on Monday.
Separately, the Wall Street Journal, citing a source, reported that United Airlines found a wiring problem on one of its 787s, an issue that affects the same electrical system that caused the fire aboard a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston on Monday.
United spokeswoman Christen David said United inspected its 787s after the Boston fire incident, but she declined to discuss the findings, or to confirm the Journal report.
The Journal reported that the airline found improperly installed wiring in electrical components associated with the auxiliary power unit.
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that the battery in the auxiliary power unit aboard the Japan Airlines jet had “severe fire damage” and that surrounding damage was limited to components and structures within about 20 inches. It said the power unit was operating when the fire was discovered.
The agency sent one investigator on Monday and added two more on Tuesday. The Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing, the Japan Transport Safety Board and Japan Airlines also are involved in the probe.
The NTSB said Tuesday’s fuel leak would not warrant an investigation because there was no accident.
The leak comes after the FAA in December ordered inspections of all 787s after fuel leaks were found on two aircraft operated by foreign airlines. The leaks stemmed from incorrectly assembled fuel line couplings, which could result in loss of power or an engine fire, the FAA said.
Walsh, the Massport spokesman, said the leak in Boston was noticed at 12:25 p.m. ET Tuesday, as JAL flight 007 was taxiing toward the runway for takeoff. Crews used an absorbent to soak up the spilled fuel, Walsh said.
Some analysts had raised concerns about Boeing’s 787 after the electrical fire onboard the JAL jet on Monday. Today’s fuel leak caused further alarm about the impact on public perception of Boeing and the Dreamliner.
“We’re getting to a tipping point where they go from needing to rectify problems to doing major damage control to the image of the company and the plane,” said Richard Aboulafia, a defense and aerospace analyst with Teal Group, a consulting firm based in Fairfax, Virginia.
“While they delivered a large and unexpected number of 787s last year, it’s possible that they should have instead focused on identifying glitches and flaws, rather than pushing ahead with volume production,” he said.
Aboulafia said there is still no indication that the plane itself is flawed.
“It’s just a question of how quickly they can get all the onboard technologies right, and whether or not the 787 and Boeing brands will be badly damaged,” he said.