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Boeing?s 787: Bad dreams all round

January 17, 2013

NEARLY a decade ago All Nippon Airways (ANA) brushed aside doubts about Boeing?s as-yet unbuilt 787 ?Dreamliner? and placed the biggest launch order for a new jet in the planemaker?s history: 50 aircraft. Today, Japan is the world?s largest market for the 787. ANA and its domestic rival Japan Airlines (JAL) between them fly half of the 49 Dreamliners in service. As they have now discovered, that makes them the guinea-pigs in a complex aviation experiment.The decisions this week by regulators in Japan, America and elsewhere to ground the 787 follows a string of safety problems, including two fuel leaks and an electrical fire aboard a domestic flight that required an emergency landing. There is particular worry about the potential for the plane?s lithium-ion batteries to catch fire. The news hit Boeing?s shares and ANA?s. But their executives will not be the only ones losing sleep.Japanese firms make about 35% of the Dreamliner, under a novel system of global outsourcing that cost it years of production delays. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built one of the world?s largest furnaces to produce carbon-fibre reinforced plastic for the aircraft. Fuji Heavy Industries is the sole supplier of the Dreamliner?s centre wing box, connecting its wings to the fuselage. Shares in both also took a beating on Wednesday, on fears of big delays in the planned ramp-up of 787 production.New...

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