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Another Boeing 787 problem: Japan Airlines reports fuel leak

A Japan Airlines 787 from which fuel spilled Boston's Logan International Airport last Tuesday sits tarmac NaritAirport Nariteast Tokyo Sunday

A Japan Airlines 787, from which fuel spilled at Boston's Logan International Airport last Tuesday, sits on the tarmac at Narita Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2012. Narita airport officials said JAL reported a 100-liter fuel leak from a filler on the 787 during inspection following recent spate of problems. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE

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Updated: February 15, 2013 6:23AM

Chicago-based Boeing faced another problem Sunday when a second Japan Airlines plane reported a fuel leak in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner for the second time in a week amid a U.S. safety review of the aircraft.

Narita International Airport outside of Tokyo ssaid JAL reported a 100-liter fuel leak in a 787 during an inspection Sunday. The aircraft reportedly was the same one that had a fuel leak in Boston last week.

Japan’s All Nippon Airways has experienced a fuel leak, a cockpit window crack and a computer malfunctioning in its 787s, causing cancellations of several domestic flights.

The 787 is Boeing’s newest and most high-tech airliner. Japanese airlines are among the top 787 customers.

On Friday, U.S. regulators said the 787 is safe to fly, but they launched a comprehensive review of critical systems in the next-generation airplane.

The review will include the design, manufacture and assembly of critical systems, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a news conference that included Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta.

The review was necessary to reassure the public, airline analysts said. Initially, it’s going to cause unwanted attention, said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the aerospace and defense consulting firm Teal Group.

“In the long run, its going to reassure because they’re not going to find any fundamental flaws, just things that need tweaking,” he said. “It’s going to be a manufacturing issue, in which case they need to tweak processes; or system issues, which will also require tweaks, stuff that will require additional work and additional expense.”

“These appear to be isolated incidents,” said John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member, of the plane’s recent problems.

The review is being done “to validate the work that we conducted during the certification process,” Huerta said. “We’re going to work with Boeing to conduct a review. . . . We want to see the entire picture, and we do not want to simply focus on individual events.”

Special emphasis will be put on the electrical systems of the plane, including batteries and power distribution panels; and how the electrical and mechanical systems interact with each other, Huerta said.

He noted tjat the FAA logged 200,000 hours of technical work before certifying the plane, which went into service 15 months ago and was the first all-new commercial airplane to be certified and enter service in 15 years.

“We are confident about the safety of this aircraft, but we’re concerned about these incidents, and we will conduct the review until we’re completely satisfied,” Huerta said.

Among incidents with the plane this week was a fire that ignited Monday in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit of a Japan Airlines 787 empty of passengers as the plane sat on the tarmac at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Also this week, a fuel leak delayed a flight from Boston to Tokyo of another Japan Airlines 787.

And on Friday, Japan’s All Nippon Airways said a very small amount of oil was discovered leaking from an engine of a 787 flight from southern Japan’s Miyazaki airport to Tokyo. The jet returned to Miyazaki, and after checks found no safety risk, it flew to Tokyo. ANA said that on another flight glass in a cockpit window cracked, and the aircraft was grounded for repairs.

Much is riding on the 787, which was delayed in entering the market for years because of production problems. Boeing has received orders for 848 787s and delivered 50 of the airplanes.

“If the FAA deems the problems are a non-design issue, “ Boeing will be fine,” said Chicago-based Morningstar Inc. aerospace and defense industry analyst Neal Dihora. “If this is a design issue, it will be more troublesome.”

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