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Boeing's New Dreamliner Is Smokin' (Literally)

For the first time in a decade, Boeing in 2012 outperformed its only real rival, Airbus, both selling and delivering more planes.

That performance was based in part on sales of its newest widebody jet, the 787 Dreamliner.

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The first 787 was received by ANA in September 2011, and since then about 35 787s have been delivered to eight airline customers.

As of last month, the company had taken orders for 844 Dreamliners, with more expected in 2013.

But the new planes have come in for unwanted scrutiny after safety concerns were raised by a series of electro-mechanical incidents, most recently yesterday's fire on a Japan Airlines 787 as it sat parked at a gate at Boston's Logan Airport.

Passengers and crew had already deplaned after the flight arrived from Tokyo, and the fire was extinguished with no injuries or significant damage to the aircraft. But it was just the latest in a series of mishaps that have bedeviled the plane's early days in service.

Among them:

  • A fire similar to the one in Boston broke out during the 787's testing phase in 2010.
  • In December, an electrical malfunction forced a United Airlines 787 to make an emergency landing.
  • Later that same month, United reported that the same issue had been discovered on a second Dreamliner.
  • Also in December, Qatar Airlines grounded one of its 787s because of electrical issues.
  • The FAA has ordered inspections of potential fuel-line leaks on all 787s.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board is also looking into potential 787-related safety issues.

As has been pointed out by a number of aviation experts, such problems with a new aircraft—especially one that uses novel materials and production techniques, as the 787 does—are not uncommon. Indeed, as with a newly launched computer operating system, it is to be expected that problems will be identified and addressed during the plane's initial in-service period. Testing doesn't end with the first delivery.

Should the average flyer find comfort in such anodyne assurances?

I do. I'd happily fly on a Dreamliner tomorrow if the opportunity arose to do so.

But if you believe that where there's smoke, there's likely to be fire, you might want to defer your first 787 flight. The longer you wait, the higher the likelihood that all the Dreamliner's gremlins will have been exorcised.

Reader Reality Check

Are the 787's problems of concern to you? Would you fly on one anyway?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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