Analysis: After the 787 crisis, risks still loom for Boeing

Tue Apr 30, 2013 3:15pm EDT
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By Alwyn Scott

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing Co's (BA.N: Quote) 787 Dreamliner is carrying passengers again after a three-month ban on flights, but the company still faces potent risks related to the new, high-tech plane.

U.S. regulators formally lifted flight restrictions last week after Boeing redesigned the lithium-ion battery system that overheated on two 787s in January, clearing the company to install the fix on the 50 jets delivered so far.

Ethiopian Airlines resumed passenger flights on Saturday, and other carriers, including Japan Airlines (9201.T: Quote), All Nippon Airways (9202.T: Quote) and United Airlines (UAL.N: Quote), plan to resume service in May and June.

Though Boeing will not say what the crisis has cost, the Chicago-based aerospace and defense giant absorbed nearly all of it in the first quarter while posting a 20 percent profit gain.

Wall Street is broadly positive on the stock, which rose 18 percent during the 787 grounding amid optimism over Boeing's ability to deliver on a backlog of plane orders.

Still, as the $207 million Dreamliner returns to service, aviation experts say Boeing remains vulnerable to ongoing regulatory inquiries that could reveal more information on the battery failures or make it harder to certify future airplanes.

"The airline community believes this is a ghastly time for Boeing and the 787, and only time will tell whether the fix will do the job," said Tim Clark, the CEO of Emirates airline, one of Boeing's biggest customers, though not a 787-buyer.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation, for example, could reveal a cause for the two battery meltdowns many months from now, putting Boeing's fix and its analysis of the problem under renewed scrutiny, according to people familiar with the investigation.   Continued...

Employees of All Nippon Airways (ANA) queue in front of the company's Boeing 787 Dreamliner plane after its test flight at Haneda airport in Tokyo April 28, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino