Yet Another Problem for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner


The Wall Street Journal has reported that problems with the Boeing (BA) 787's electrical systems (ES) are the likely cause of a fire earlier this month during a test flight. According to the Journal, "The Nov. 9 fire occurred while Dreamliner No. 2 was on final approach to the Laredo, Texas, airport. That plane remains in Laredo while the other five 787s are back at Boeing's commercial-airplane headquarters in Seattle."

But DailyFinance readers should not have been surprised by news of problems with the ES. That's because I reported in August 2009 that the 787 was suffering problems with its ES and its Environmental Control Systems (ECS).

Boeing is making what it calls "minor design changes" and software upgrades in the 787's ES and does not yet know how much of a delay this latest setback will cause. But many analysts expect the first delivery to be extended at least six months from the latest delivery date in the first quarter of 2011. This would put the 787 -- whose original delivery date was May 2008 -- over three years behind schedule.

Boeing has 847 787s on order, with list prices ranging from $161 million to $205 million each, depending on the model, according to the Journal.

Problems Pile Up

In August 2009, a source told me that the 787's ES failed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspection in 2008 so the FAA ordered the firm responsible for the ES's software to rewrite the code. In my reporting on potential delays, Boeing spokespeople denied knowledge of any serious problems with the 787's systems.

This is not the only problem I reported on last year that Boeing denied knowing about. My source from August 2009 also identified problems with the 787's ECS, which is intended to pressurize the aircraft, as a particular problem. He said he believes there is not a technological solution to the problem.

When I asked Boeing for comment in 2009, a spokesperson said, "The 787's systems are working, including the environmental control system that pressurizes the airplane. We are continuing to improve and mature the systems, as is normal for a development program."

I guess Boeing has more improving to do. And its board either did not know about these problems in 2009, or it decided not to disclose them to investors back then. Either of these explanations raises serious questions about how well Boeing is being governed.