Last updated: November 7, 2011 11:32 pm

Boeing Dreamliner’s woes continue

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Boeing’s flagship 787 Dreamliner hit its first operational glitch barely a week after the new wide-bodied jet made its entrance into regular passenger service, potentially creating further embarrassment for the world’s second-largest aircraft-maker.

The US manufacturer triumphantly handed over the first 787 to ANA, the Japanese carrier, in September, more than three years after originally scheduled because of multiple delays due to a long list of design and production problems.

The latest blow to the troubled jet came on Sunday, when pilots on an ANA flight from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Okayama in western Japan were unable to deploy the 787’s landing gear automatically, forcing them to lower the landing gear manually.

The 787 landed at Okayama in its second attempt, touching down some 30 minutes after originally scheduled.

“There was an issue with the landing gear deployment,” a Boeing spokeswoman told the Financial Times. “The pilots used the alternative method for deploying the landing gear … it worked as expected and the airplane completed a safe landing.”

The aircraft was put into maintenance and returned to service on Monday, after which it flew two routes with no further problems.

ANA told local reporters that the landing gear did not deploy because of a problem with the hydraulic valve and said the airline and Boeing were still investigating the exact cause of the fault. An ANA spokeswoman described the problem to local reporters as a minor malfunction that “occurs frequently on other aircraft”.

“There’s nothing that we’ve seen so far that indicates this was anything other than a one-off event. We’ll continue to look into the root cause along with ANA and if we find anything else, we’ll of course take the appropriate steps,” said the Boeing spokeswoman.

“It’s not what we want to see happen but we have alternate methods for a reason. These things happen with airplanes.”

Nevertheless, the incident will do little to boost Boeing’s reputation at a time when the aircraft-maker had hoped to have put the 787’s design problems behind it as it seeks to refit dozens of Dreamliners that came off its initial production line, at the same time as ramping up assembly to hit a target build rate of 10 aircraft a month by 2013.

ANA held the 787’s first charter passenger flight two weeks ago, but the carrier only began using its two Dreamliners on two regular domestic service routes – from Tokyo to Hiroshima and Okayama – on November 1. The airline has said it intends to fly the aircraft domestically on a trial basis before using it on international routes.

ANA has 55 Dreamliners on order, with seven expected to be delivered by the end of the year. The Dreamliner is the most popular new aircraft in aviation history, with more than 821 orders. Carriers have been attracted by its fuel efficiency, earned through an unprecedented use of composite materials. However, the complexity of using such materials added considerably to the production headaches Boeing has experienced.

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