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Boeing Reports Profit, No Progress on Dreamliner Woes

All eyes are on Boeing this morning as the aerospace giant reports its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings and, perhaps, comments on its progress in identifying and fixing the problems that have grounded all 50 copies of its marquee product, the 787 Dreamliner.

The company reported revenue for the period of $22.3 billion, and $81.7 billion for the full year. Both were record highs for the company. Profit for the year: $3.9 billion.

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But looking ahead, the specter of those grounded Dreamliners loomed large. Boeing's Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney didn't mince words: "Our first order of business for 2013 is to resolve the battery issue on the 787 and return the airplanes safely to service with our customers."

Boeing better hope that resolution is achieved sooner rather than later. Of the company's scheduled 2013 aircraft deliveries, more than 60 are Dreamliners.

So, where do things stand with the investigations currently underway by U.S. and Japanese safety agencies?

In a good news-bad news development, the lithium-ion batteries involved in at least one Dreamliner incident have been examined microscopically and found to be sound. That suggests that the culprit is lurking somewhere in the complicated upstream systems that monitor, control, and charge the batteries. It also means there's no quick fix for the problem.

Meanwhile, adding to the P.R. pressure to put the matter to rest, Boeing's sourcing practices have come under scrutiny. In particular, an article in the New York Times suggested that Boeing's choice of Japanese subcontractors, including battery-maker GS Yuasa, was part of a deal with Japanese bureaucrats that guaranteed Boeing products would be favored by the country's two largest carriers, All Nippon and Japan Airlines.

Such deals are considered anti-competitive and are illegal in the U.S. and much of the rest of the developed world, but remain pervasive in Japan.

Dreamliner Issues

The ever-growing list of 787-related incidents and regulatory responses now includes the following:

  • On January 16, the FAA ordered all U.S. Dreamliners gounded until the safety issued could be sorted out. The move prompted a worldwide grounding.
  • On January 15, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines suspended all 787 flights following a battery malfunction that resulted in an emergency landing.
  • At least partly in response to the service suspensions by Japanese carriers, Qatar Airways cancelled a scheduled 787 flight from London to Doha.
  • On January 13, a fuel leak was discovered on a Japan Airlines 787 at Tokyo's Narita Airport.
  • On January 11, the FAA announced that it would subject the 787 Dreamliner to an unusual post-launch "review."
  • On January 7, a fire broke out on a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston.
  • A fire similar to the one in Boston had been reported 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.
  • On December 5, the FAA ordered inspections of potential fuel-line leaks on all 787s.

About the 787 Dreamliner

The Dreamliner is Boeing's most advanced airliner, featuring such cutting-edge technology as lithium-ion batteries and a composite-plastic body.

The first 787 was received by ANA in September 2011, and since then 50 787s have been delivered to eight airline customers, including United.

As of last month, the company had taken orders for 844 Dreamliners, and Boeing hopes to sell as many as 5,000 during the lifetime of the plane.

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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