Boeing probes how Dreamliner panel fell off

Boeing has said that it was looking into the recent incident when a large belly panel of a Dreamliner aircraft  fell off on Saturday last during a flight from New Delhi to Bangalore, putting the lives of 148 people onboard, including the crew, at risk.

Boeing is working to understand what caused the belly panel of a Dreamliner belonging to Air India to fall while on a flight from New Delhi to Bangalore on Saturday last,  Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said in Seattle on Wednesday.

Alder declined to say whether the plane was made at Boeing's South Carolina factory. A number of Air India jets have come from that assembly line.

"It was the mid-underwing-to-body fairing located on the belly of the airplane on the right side," Alder said. The part "provides a more aerodynamic surface in flight."

The panel was replaced with one taken from another 787 Dreamliner and the flight took up its return journey after a nine-hour delay in Bangalore.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the aviation regulator in India, is conducting a probe into the incident. Experts are also examining the panel.

Air India at present operates eight Dreamliners. An official said a ninth plane should start flying "anytime now".

Though the Saturday incident created panic, officials said there was no hazard at all.

From day one, the Dreamliners bought by Air India have had problems. The temporary grounding of Dreamliners had resulted in Air India incurring an additional expenditure of Rs 60 lakh per day due to substitution of other aircraft and an extra cost of Rs 1.43 crore per day for aircraft financing and cost of maintenance of pilots.

Air India later appointed a sub-committee to negotiate the issue of compensation with Boeing for the losses suffered because of grounding of Dreamliners.

Boeing said the loss of the fuselage panel posed no safety risk to passengers. It was not immediately known where the panel landed. Boeing said the missing panel fell from the underside of the plane on the right side. A photo on an Indian website showed a large opening with components and aircraft structure visible inside.

The pilots did not realize the eight-by-four-foot panel was missing until after the flight landed and aviation authorities are investigating the matter.

Problems that have afflicted the 787 include battery overheating that prompted regulators to ground the entire fleet in January. Flights resumed in April. Despite the problems, Boeing's stock has stayed near record levels. It closed Tuesday at $118.18, down $1.28.

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