Boeing Beacon Inspection Could Permanently Damage Company Image

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Boeing Co.’s (NYSE: BA) 787 Dreamliner problems just got much, much worse. Safety questions about the Dreamliner have spread to several other Boeing models. The news will do more damage to its reputation with carriers and, probably more importantly, with the flying public.

One of the triggers for the new inspection was a safety bulletin issued by the U.K.’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch after an emergency beacon on a 787 caught on fire at Heathrow Airport. Boeing has elected to, or behind the scenes has been forced to, call for inspections of 1,800 of its planes worldwide. This includes some 747, 767, 777 and 737 models.

Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said, “The purpose of these inspections is to gather data to support potential rule-making by regulators.” This signals that most large national airline authorities may take some of the planes out of service. Given the number of planes and the large number of models, inspections could disrupt the air transportation system worldwide.

Boeing and its carrier customers already have indicated anxiety over whether the 787 Dreamliner in particular is safe. Battery fires took the plane out of service worldwide. The story was front page news off and on for a month. Some of the problems on 787s have occurred in flight, or in planes on the ground, but with passengers still on board.

The 787 has been a success, in terms of sales, because of its light, carbon fiber body. That, along with efficient engines, cuts fuel costs, which are unusually large for older aircraft on transoceanic flights. However, passengers do have the option to book passage on these older planes to get around what they believe are the 787’s safety problems. As a result, airlines may be forced to keep older planes in service longer.

Airlines have begun to lobby Boeing for reparations for the time their 787s are out of service. That, and any delay in 787 deliveries, could cost well into the tens of millions of dollars — or much more if the delays drag into months