Last updated: January 30, 2013 7:29 pm

Dreamliner faults cloud Boeing earnings

An ANA Dreamliner is examined at Tokyo's Haneda airport on January 16 following safety concerns©Reuters

Boeing on Wednesday declared regulators were making progress in working out what caused the battery problem that has grounded its flagship 787 Dreamliner, as the US manufacturer reported better than expected fourth-quarter earnings for 2012.

Boeing is reeling from the worldwide grounding of the 787, its newest and most sophisticated aircraft, because of safety concerns, just as it has regained its position as the world’s largest passenger jet maker from Airbus.

Regulators stopped 50 Dreamliners from flying when an All Nippon Airways’ 787 made an emergency landing on January 16 after the crew smelled burning in the cabin and one of its lithium-ion batteries was found to be badly damaged and charred. Nine days earlier, a battery on a 787 operated by Japan Airlines caught fire.

The Dreamliner is the first aircraft in which Boeing has used lithium-ion batteries, carried out in an effort to save weight. This equipment is at the centre of regulatory investigations in the US and Japan that have so far not established a cause for the problems.

Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chief executive, on Wednesday expressed “deep regret” at the impact the Dreamliner’s grounding was having on customers. But he said the regulatory investigations were making “good progress” by narrowing the potential causes of the battery incidents.

“We will get to the bottom of this and, in doing so, restore confidence in the 787 and in Boeing,” said Mr McNerney.

He said nothing so far suggested Boeing had made the “wrong choice” with the 787 by incorporating lithium-ion batteries, which have a record of catching fire in electric cars and laptops.

In afternoon trading in New York, Boeing’s shares were up 1 per cent at $74.55.

Boeing reported revenue of $22.3bn for the last three months of 2012, up 14 per cent compared with the same time in 2011, as the company delivered more aircraft to customers.

Earnings a share in the fourth quarter reached $1.28, down 30 per cent, partly because of higher taxes. However, the earnings exceeded analysts’ expectations.

Some analysts expressed disappointment at Boeing’s guidance for delivering up to 645 passenger jets to customers in 2013, including more than 60 Dreamliners.

The number of 787s was lower than several analysts’ estimates. Boeing said Dreamliner production would be affected by how it was starting to make a version that could seat more passengers.

In 2013, where Boeing is for now assuming no significant negative financial impact from the Dreamliner’s grounding, the company expects to report full-year earnings a share of between $5 and $5.20, compared with $5.11 in 2012. This year’s performance will be affected by higher pension expenses.

It emerged on Wednesday that ANA, the largest operator of the 787, had problems with the lithium-ion batteries on its Dreamliners before the emergency landing on January 16.

ANA replaced Dreamliner batteries on 10 occasions last year because of faults with this equipment or related components, although the airline and Boeing said safety was not compromised.

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