Fuel leaks out of Dreamliner headed to Tokyo; second problem in two days for Japan Airlines planes

Boston, Massachusetts 01-08-2013 A Japan Airline Plane is escorted back to gate because of an issue before takeoff. (Jonathan Wiggs ) Topic: Reporter:
The Japan Airlines plane was towed back to the gate. Officials say mechanics have checked it out and it now has the green light to leave.Credit: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet began leaking fuel as it taxied today on the airfield at Logan International Airport, officials said. It was the second mishap in two days involving the high-tech jet at Logan.

The Japan Airlines nonstop flight to Tokyo had 178 passengers and 11 crew on board. The plane returned to the terminal and, after being evaluated by the airlines’ mechanics, was expected to take off this afternoon. No injuries were reported, officials said.

About 40 gallons of fuel spilled out of the left side of the aircraft, said Ed Freni, aviation director at the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the airport. The spill was quickly contained.

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“We responded immediately and we cleaned it up,” he said.

After mechanics examined the plane, “They did an idle runup and the good news is that the airplane is ready to go out,” Freni said.

He said it was too early to be certain but the incident, which happened shortly before 12:30 p.m., appeared to be less worrisome than Monday’s fire aboard a different Japan Airlines Dreamliner at the airport. Today’s incident, he said, could be the result of simply overfilling the airplane’s fuel tanks.

Flight 7 was slated to take off at noon. It returned to the gate at 1:30 p.m. It eventually departed late this afternoon.

The flight crew on the plane behind the Japan Airlines plane first reported the fuel leaking out of the 787 as it was taxiing, Freni said.

“That Japan Air may know it, but they’ve got fuel or something spilling out the outboard left wing. Quite a bit,” a pilot could be heard telling ground controllers in radio transmissions recorded by liveatc.net.

After Massport firefighters were dispatched, a firefighter reported, “I have it in sight. It’s definitely leaking. Absolutely.”

The initial response to the scene appeared to have been hindered by communications problems between the plane and Massport firefighters surrounding the aircraft with their fire trucks.

“Logan command is on this frequency and trying to get a hold of you … Are you hearing Logan command call you?’’ a controller said at one point.

“Logan command, say again?” a pilot responded.

On Monday a fire was discovered in a battery compartment in the underbelly of another Dreamliner that had just arrived from Tokyo. No one was injured. Cleaners smelled the fire after passengers had disembarked.

The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into the fire. In an investigative update issued today, it said that the fire severely damaged the auxiliary power unit battery and caused “thermal damage to the surrounding structure and components.” One firefighter was injured, the agency said.

The Wall Street Journal, citing an unidentified source, reported today that United Airlines found an improperly installed bundle of wires in one of its 787s during an inspection following the Logan fire. The wires connected to the battery used to start the auxiliary power unit.

A United spokeswoman confirmed that the airline inspected all six of its 787s overnight after the Logan incident, but she would not comment on the results. None of the planes are out of service. “We continue to work closely with Boeing on the reliability of our 787s,” said Mary Ryan.

Boeing had no comment for the Journal on its report. But separately, it issued a statement saying it was cooperating with the NTSB and wanted to “give our technical teams the time they need to do a thorough job and ensure we are dealing with facts not speculation.” The company also emphasized that “nothing that we’ve seen in this case indicates a relationship to any previous 787 power system events.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that it was “looking into a reported Japan Airlines 787 fuel leak at Logan Airport today and continues to look into the cause of yesterday’s 787 incident at Logan.”

On Dec. 5, the FAA ordered inspections of all 36 787s in service after it received reports of fuel leaks on two aircraft operated by foreign airlines. Several incorrectly assembled fuel couplings on in-service and in-production 787s were subsequently discovered. The conditions could result in fuel leaks that could lead to a loss of power or fire, according to the FAA directive.

Japan Airlines runs a nonstop flight connecting Boston and Tokyo, which has been viewed as a boost for the airport and for the regional economy.

The carbon-composite plane has been closely watched through development and production, the Globe reports today.

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