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What negative Italian press could mean for Boeing 787

A view of the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines on the assembly line at the Rolls Royce factory as Prince William, Duke of Cambridge visits the Rolls Royce XWB engine assembly line on November 30, 2016 in Derby, England. (Paul Ellis - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Falling shrapnel from a jet over an Italian village is just the latest negative headline to include Boeing’s name, but according to one expert, the company is likely not at fault.

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Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia says that despite bad press and tragic crashes, Boeing business should take off again.

“Boeing of course has taken a series of lumps lately, with 777X delays, certainly the Max issue, and now this pretty minor issue,” Aboulafia said. “On the other hand, there are only two jet manufacturers in the world of any note. The system is enormous. Unfortunately, bad things are going to happen. We still have this incredibly safe air transport system that is far safer than any other form of transport ever and with very high barriers to entry in the business.”

“(The recent bad news) is more of a Rolls-Royce problem, nevertheless it does have an impact on public perception of Boeing,” he said.

Rolls-Royce made the engine model on the Boeing 787.

Metal pieces from Norwegian Air flight reportedly broke off of a 787 and fell onto a small Italian village outside of Rome over the weekend, according to Business Insider. Cars and homes were damaged from the metal debris that were between two and four inches wide. Locals said the pieces fell like bullets and one resident said they were lucky to be alive after being struck.

The plane turned around and landed. Norwegian Air reported that there were indications of a technical failure in one of its engines.

“The only thing that is going to rain that quantity of metal down out of the plane onto the ground is the engine,” Aboulafia said. “Nothing else that moves is really exposed to the outside, unless of course, the aircraft itself starts falling apart which is certainly not the case.”

“Sounds like this was a Trent engine problem, it’s the very same Trent engine that has been giving Rolls-Royce a great deal of problems, both on the 787 and the Airbus A330 Neo,” he said.

Aboulafia adds that no airplane manufacturer builds its own engines. Therefore, this was not a product of Boeing.

“Fred Whitney, Rolls-Royce, and General Electric are the three primary, pretty much only, large commercial jetliner engine makers, and this is very much a Rolls-Royce engine problem,” he said.

In response to the incident in Italy, Boeing issued the following statement:

We are aware of the situation and supporting our customer at this time. We stand ready to provide technical assistance to the authorities who are investigating the cause of the incident.

Boeing continues to deal with fallout from its 737 controversy. Two 737 Max planes crashed within months, prompting the grounding of the model in early 2019. The controversy has harmed the company. Most recently, Boeing lost a $5.9 billion contract with a Saudi airline.

Meanwhile, the relationship between the FAA and Boeing has come under investigation. The investigation initially focused on production and regulation of the 737 Max, but has expanded to the 787 as well.

In the wake of the 737 crashes, Boeing has been scrambling to fix the 737’s MCAS system — computer software that is believed to have caused both crashes. MCAS forces the plane’s nose down when it senses it is rising too fast. The system likely caused the planes to dive into the ground in the two deadly crashes.

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“I think the situation is stabilizing when it comes to the MCAS system and the 737 MAX,” Aboulafia said. “It looks like they’ve managed to get regulators around the world on the same page, a lot more harmonized than before, and they have a plan for a complete system redesign.”

“It sounds like the new plan is going to work just fine,” he said. “What we don’t know are what issues or technical snafus they will encounter along the way … will there be schedule delays on the road as they test it? That is the big risk at this point.”

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