Dreamliner fuel leak traced to defects in manufacturing

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Notice issued to carriers to complete inspection within 7 days

Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliners must be inspected after fuel leaks on two of the planes were traced to manufacturing errors, the US

Federal Aviation Administration said.

The airworthiness directive, the first for the 787 since it began service in 2011 with Japan’s All Nippon Airways, will be issued later on Wednesday and require checks of fuel-line connectors for an unsafe condition, the FAA said on the Federal Register’s website.

It cited improperly installed couplings on two 787s. The leaks could cause a plane to run out of fuel or lead to engine power loss or a fire, the FAA said.

Chicago-based Boeing issued a similar recommendation on November 25, advising carriers to complete an inspection within seven days, according to the FAA.

The planemaker delivered 33 Dreamliners, the first jetliner made chiefly of composite materials, throu­gh October. Inspections are finished on about half of the 787s handed over so far, and Boeing is taking appropriate steps to ensure proper installation on airplanes in production, said Lori Gunter, a company spokeswoman.

The couplings are in the pylons that support the jet’s two engines. The FAA didn’t identify the operators of the 787s with the leaks beyond saying that they were flown by foreign airlines. The agency is requiring partial checks within seven days and what it estimates to be a full 10-hour, $2,712 inspection and potential repair within 21 days.

Boeing will do a thorough evaluation as part of our internal process, said Gunter, who declined to say whether there had been any incidents with the two Dreamliners in question or how the flaw was detected.

She also wouldn’t say whether the assembly mistakes occurred at Boeing’s wide-body plant in Everett, Washington, or at a newer factory making 787s in North Charleston, South Carolina, nor would she comment on how the errors occurred. Tuesday’s emergency landing of a United Continental Holdings 787 because of an unspecified mechanical issue isn’t related to the fuel-leak directive, Gunter said.

United became the first US airline flying the plane with a flight on November 4 to the carrier’s headquarters city, Chicago, from Houston.

The incident on Tuesday involved a flight to Newark Liberty International Airport from Houston. The 787 was three and half years late in making its commercial debut, after Boeing struggled with the composite materials and new manufacturing system that relies more on suppliers. Other manufacturing errors have been found during the Dreamliner’s development and entry into service. In 2009, Boeing had to patch up several sections of about two dozen planes after finding tiny wrinkles in parts of the composite fuselages made by an Italian supplier.

Debris was left in the fuel tanks of a 787 test jet being built in January 2010, the same year that flaws in the tail sections were found in June and debris in an electrical panel led to an in-flight fire in November that grounded the entire test fleet for six weeks.

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