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Boeing 787 flights fail en route

By DAVID KOENIG
AP Airlines Writer

DALLAS – Mechanical glitches that caused three United Airlines flights to be cut short in the past week might have gotten little notice except for one detail: All the planes were Boeing 787s.

The 787, which Boeing calls the Dreamliner, faces more scrutiny than normal because it was grounded for three months by concern about overheating lithium-ion batteries.

Aviation experts say the three recent incidents with United planes didn’t appear to pose any threat to passenger safety. But, they say, the reputation of Boeing and its newest plane will suffer if glitches continue to pile up:

On Sunday, a United 787 flight from Houston to Denver returned to Houston shortly after takeoff because of what United called “a brake indicator issue.” Spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm said the plane, with 219 passengers, made an emergency landing as a precaution. She said a maintenance team examined the plane, and it was returned to service.

Last Thursday, a United 787 carrying 218 passengers from London to Houston stopped in Newark, N.J., because an indicator showed low engine oil. The Federal Aviation Administration said it was looking into the incident.

Last Tuesday, a United flight from Denver to Tokyo diverted to Seattle because of what the airline called an oil-filter issue. The airline put up about 200 passengers overnight in a hotel, then flew them to Tokyo the next day on another 787.

It’s not unusual for a new plane or model to suffer glitches. Some sound more ominous than others, such as when Airbus had to repair cracks on parts inside the wings of its huge A380 jets in 2011 and 2012.

With last week’s Dreamliner incidents, “We’re seeing a relatively small number of relatively minor problems,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with the Teal Group. “This is similar to what we’ve seen with other new aircraft.”

John F. Thomas of L.E.K. Consulting said three aborted flights in six days could be partly coincidence and partly stemming from pilots being quick to land if anything on the 787 seems out of the ordinary.

“Because of what happened with the batteries, people would naturally be cautious,” he said.

The Dreamliner is Boeing’s most technologically advanced airliner, with lightweight materials and other innovations designed to boost fuel efficiency.

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