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All Things Travel: The Clock Is Ticking For Boeing’s Dreamliner

By Bob Weiss, CBSBoston.com Travel Contributor
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Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Logan Airport (Credit: WBZ-TV's Chris Gobeille)

Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Logan Airport (Credit: WBZ-TV’s Chris Gobeille)

Bob-Weiss Bob Weiss
Bob Weiss’s All Things Travel reports can be heard weekly on WBZ...
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BOSTON (CBS) – It sits there on the tarmac at Logan Airport waiting for something to happen.

The Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner is starting its fourth week in Boston after an electrical fire at the gate in Terminal E literally grounded Boeing’s newest jet on January 7.

All 50 Dreamliners have been grounded as both U.S. and Japanese government agencies look at just what went wrong in two major electrical battery failures this month.

The stakes are enormous for both Boeing, the jets manufacturer and Logan Airport where The Dreamliner has increased both business and leisure travel for non-stop service between Boston and Asia for the first time.

The new Boeing jet flew into Logan Airport on March 4th of last year and was parked at The Delta Hanger for a day of publicity and tours. Governor Deval Patrick came out to take a look and welcome the new JAL flights. Having been aboard the aircraft that day, you can see softer lighting and more comfort for passengers as major steps forward for the manufacturer.

The sale of jet planes is the number one export for The United States.

Service from Logan Airport began on April 12. According to both JAL and Massport officials the load factors in both directions between The U.S. and Japan have met the projections in the first year.

As with any new aircraft, there have been start-up problems. On October 1, this reporter was passing through The Seattle Airport on vacation. I noticed a sign that SeaTac Airport was having a press event to celebrate the first Japan ANA flight to Tokyo. I showed my news credentials, but got the brush-off at their sign-in area.

It turned out that the inaugural return flight was cancelled due to a mechanical problem in Boeing’s hometown.

The jet age started 55 years ago when the first Boeing 707 flew from New York to Paris in eight-and-a-half hours. In 1970 Boeing introduced the jumbo 747, two deck aircraft. That was followed by the Triple 7. That Boeing 777 jet is now flying the Boston to Tokyo route while the 787 is grounded.

The 9/11 terrorist attack, followed by major loses by U.S. carriers and a strong competitor in European Airbus sales forced Boring to take on the challenge of a new jet, the 787.

The initial cost estimates for the launch was about $5 billion, but the final cost ended up at $14 billion.

The process of designing a smaller and lighter jet proved to be much more difficult than originally thought. Deliveries were over three years late. Boeing had to pay its customers millions in penalties. It suffered a loss in airline confidence in the company.

Where does all of this leave The Dreamliner? About half of the new planes that have been flying belong to the two Japanese carriers, ANA and Japan Airlines. If the groundings last more than another week, the Boston service could be suspended until the situation is resolved.

The fuel efficient Dreamliner and its 160 seats was perfect for smaller airports like Logan, but were also important for business travel.

Japan Airlines is part of The Oneworld Alliance that includes American Airlines. The AA marketing team in Boston has been of great assistance to JAL in supplying corporate passengers under a shared contract.

“We would not have come here without American’s help,” said a JAL executive just about a year ago.

The clock is ticking.

All Things Travel Reports with Bob Weiss can be heard on WBZ NewsRadio

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