SEATTLE – A third Boeing 787 is discovered with electrical problems similar, if not identical, to what was found on two other brand new jets, KING 5 News has learned from multiple sources.
The plane is a second one belonging to United Airlines. Another jet with electrical issues was delivered to Qatar Airways, as they plane flew to Doha, Qatar on its delivery flight from the United States.
In last week’s United case, Flight 1146 from Houston to Newark diverted to New Orleans after pilots declared an emergency with 174 passengers on board, fearing a possible fire in the high voltage rear electrical bay. There was no fire, and one source say that the pilots diverted their 13-day-old jet “out of an abundance of caution.”
Initially, the problem was believed to have started with a faulty electrical generator on one of the engines, but Thursday night United said it no longer believes that. Instead pilots noticed what was a false “nuisance warning” in the cockpit indicating a generator fault. United believes the problem originates in a power control panel located in the real electrical bay their pilots initially suspected. KING 5 News has also learned that Boeing is pursuing the same theory, but so far has not gotten to the bottom of the cause.
United says the electrical panels were replaced. The panels handle the huge electrical load for the fly-by-wire jet, which can range between 250 to 500 kilowatts. On the 78, electrical power drives everything, from flight control surfaces like flaps and ailerons to the galley.
“You have to also understand, that Airbus and Boeing are engaged in a race for innovation for really going and pushing the technological envelope all the time,” said industry analyst Michel Merluzeau with G2 Solutions. “The innovation cycles are going to shorten. They’re going to be more frequent.”
Merluzeau says Boeing’s most technologically advanced jet is still experiencing what he calls “teething pains” after entering service with Japan’s ANA airlines 15 months ago. The 787 airplane program ended up three and one half years behind schedule as Boeing struggled to get the world’s first composite airliner certified and delivered to customers. But the plane bears innovations throughout, beyond its mostly carbon fiber and plastic resin structure.
The subject of the rear electrical bay is a sensitive one, after Boeing’s second 787 test aircraft, ZA002, experienced a serious fire while flying over Texas in 2010. The high voltage panel caused the fire after a stray piece of metal shorted two electrical terminals, and the airplanes software refused to shut down the circuit, instead continuing to pump electrical power into the panel causing it to overheat. That incident resulted in a major overhaul of the panel’s design in order to prevent a repeat.
In a statement, Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter wrote: “Our technical team will evaluate the findings…to understand the root cause of this issue and take the appropriate next steps.”
The FAA is also looking into the problem, saying: “The FAA is working closely with Boeing to identify the root cause of recent generator issues with Boeing 787 aircraft. Once we identify the cause, we will work with Boeing to develop appropriate safety actions.”