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Boeing CEO pledges to keep boosting 787 production even amid FAA grounding

Ashley Gross

Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney says the company plans to keep boosting 787 Dreamliner production even while the planes are grounded for a battery investigation.

The grounding of the 787 Dreamliner worldwide after two battery failures dominated Boeing’s 2012 earnings conference call. McNerney says the company still plans to produce 10 Dreamliners a month by the end of this year – twice its current rate.

"No instructions to slow down, business as usual, let’s keep building airplanes," McNerney said.

But the complicated investigation right now – involving teams in Japan and the U.S. – means Boeing can’t even test-fly the Dreamliners that roll out of the factory.

Investigators are scrutinizing the lithium-ion batteries to figure out why one caught on fire and another malfunctioned, prompting an emergency landing in Japan. McNerney says the company is sticking with lithium-ion batteries – which experts say pose a higher risk of overheating than nickel-cadmium ones.

"We feel good about the battery technology and its fit for the airplane," McNerney said. "We’ve just got to get to the root cause of these incidents and we’ll take a look at the data as it unfolds, but there’s nothing we’ve learned that causes us to question that decision at this stage."

McNerney acknowledged the impact this investigation is having on airline customers. Japanese airlines are suffering the brunt of the grounding - All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines have almost half of the Dreamliners that have been delivered so far.

"We deeply regret the impact this situation is having on our customers," McNerney said. "Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the flight crews and passengers who fly our airplanes. We will get to the bottom of this and in so doing, we will restore confidence in the 787 and Boeing."

Boeing’s sales rose 19 percent to a record of almost $82 billion last year. The company surpassed Airbus as the world’s biggest commercial airplane maker for the first time in a decade.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.