By Alwyn Scott
NEW YORK (Reuters) - On the same day that one of its new 787 Dreamliners made an emergency landing because of a mechanical problem, Boeing said that U.S. regulators would require the entire fleet of 787 jets to be inspected for a possible fuel line problem.
The twin mechanical issues, while not necessarily uncommon, were yet another headache for Boeing, a company still working to overcome the negative perception of production problems that delayed delivery of the 787 by 3-1/2 years.
The company said the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is requiring inspections of all 787s in service to confirm that fuel line connectors have been properly installed.
The FAA requirement, due to be issued Wednesday in an airworthiness directive, "makes mandatory inspections already recommended by Boeing," the company said in a statement.
FAA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Boeing said improperly installed fuel line connectors could lead to fuel leaks, loss of engine power or fire. But at the same time, it said there were "multiple layers of systems to ensure none of those things happen."
Boeing advised airlines flying the 787 to make inspections last month, and it said about half of the 33 jets in service have already been inspected.
The biggest 787 customers so far are Japan's All Nippon Airways Co, which was the launch customer and has 16 of the jets. Japan Airlines has four and Air India has three.
The inspections were recommended after two non-U.S. carriers experienced fuel leaks. Boeing declined to name the carriers.
The FAA directive was first reported by Bloomberg News.
The agency issued a previous airworthiness directive for the 787 and 747 in September, after problems with General Electric GEnx engines on those models. Such directives alert aircraft operators to a known safety defect.
NO FIRE IN PLANE DIVERSION
Separately, a brand new United Airlines 787 Dreamliner with 184 people aboard was forced to divert and make an emergency landing in New Orleans on Tuesday after experiencing a mechanical problem on a flight from Houston to Newark, N.J.
The pilots of Flight 1146 declared an emergency while in the air. When the plane landed safely around 9:25 a.m. CDT, fire trucks were on the runway, a standard procedure.
Initial inspections showed that there was no fire in the aft electrical equipment bay, where the problem was reported, and no sign of electrical "arcing," or electricity flowing incorrectly, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Boeing Co is ramping up production of the 787 to help reduce a backlog of 838 orders worth more than $173 billion.
While concerns about its safety could affect passenger perceptions and raise issues with deliveries to other airlines, analysts said flight diversions are not unusual, especially with new aircraft.
"These are the typical growing pains one would expect with a new airplane as it enters service," said Carter Leake, a former military and commercial pilot who is now an analyst with BB&T Capital Markets. "No conclusions can be drawn."
United said the problem occurred with its third 787, delivered November 27. The airline, which is due to receive two more 787s this month put the passengers on other flights to Newark.
"At this point, we're just looking at this specific plane, not the fleet," said Christen David, a United spokeswoman.
United is the first U.S. airline to put the new carbon-composite 787 into service and flew its first commercial flight with the new jet on November 4.
(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Ben Berkowitz, Jan Paschal and Cynthia Osterman)
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