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Updated Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 12:31 PM

2nd United 787 grounded with electrical trouble

By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter

United Airlines said Friday that a second of its four Boeing 787 Dreamliners has been grounded due to a problem with an electrical panel.

The airline provided few details, but the news comes 10 days after a previous incident when the pilot of a United 787 flight from Houston to Newark, N.J., diverted to New Orleans after one of the jet’s electrical generators appeared to have failed.

In a statement Friday, the airline traced the problem on the previous flight to an electrical panel, though it minimized the issue as merely a “nuisance,” rather than anything serious.

Both Boeing and United now agree that the problem that caused the diversion to New Orleans wasn’t a failure in one of the six generators on the aircraft, as previously thought.

“A power-distribution panel caused a nuisance generator fault indication,” meaning a false warning, the United statement said. “We replaced the panel and returned the aircraft to service.”

However, United said Friday another of its 787s is now out of service “due to a problem with an electrical panel.”

“We are working closely with the manufacturers to repair the panel,” the statement said. “The 787 is an all-new airplane, and as such we expect there to be challenges and improvements as we go.”

Coincidentally, United took delivery of its fourth Dreamliner on Friday.

The problem will get more attention because this week Qatar Airways reported an electrical problem on a 787 delivery flight Sunday that grounded the aircraft.

Qatar’s chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, told journalists in London that the problem was similar to the initial incident with a United jet.

“Two aircraft having the same problem — the same major problem — so quickly is a cause of concern,” Al Baker told Bloomberg News.

Now it may be three.

Boeing on Thursday said its technical team needed time to review the Qatar issue, compare it to the initial issue on the first United jet, and determine “how they might be similar or different.”

Because many of the Dreamliner’s systems — from wing de-icing to engine start — are electrically powered, the jet uses much more electricity than other airliners: about 1.5 megawatts, or enough to power more than 600 homes.

Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said Friday that no conclusions about the root cause of the electrical-panel issues had been reached, but the manufacturer and its airline customers “remain confident in the capabilities of the 787.”

“There are often issues that need to be worked through when a new airplane is introduced into service, and that is what is happening here,” she said.

“There is no safety of flight issue associated with these events as a result of the redundancies built into the 787.”

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963

or dgates@seattletimes.com


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