Boeing to investigate Air India Dreamliner 'panel fall'

Air India Dreamliner (Boeing 787) aircraft in August 2013
Image caption Loss-making Air India has been hit by a string of issues, including safety concerns

Boeing has said it will investigate what caused a large panel in the underneath of an Air India jet to fall off in mid-air on Saturday.

Media reports say that although the Bangalore-bound Dreamliner aircraft landed safely, the incident put some 150 passengers at a grave risk.

Air India said there was no emergency despite the "gaping hole" in the plane.

Dreamliner aircraft have been hit by technical and safety problems since the first aircraft was displayed in 2009.

The Times of India newspaper reported that the pilots flying the jet from Delhi to Bangalore did not realise that the eight-by-four-foot panel was missing until after the flight landed.

The "gaping hole in the belly" was discovered only when the aircraft was being readied for the return flight, the newspaper said.

It is the latest in a series of mishaps to hit India's struggling and heavily indebted flagship carrier.

Boeing said the loss of the fuselage panel posed no safety risk to passengers.

"It was the mid-underwing-to-body fairing located on the belly of the airplane on the right side," Boeing spokesman Doug Alder told Reuters news agency.

The part "provides a more aerodynamic surface in flight", he said.

The 787 Dreamliner has suffered a series of technical and safety problems in recent months.

Last week Japan Airlines (JAL) turned around two of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft during flights due to technical problems.

In January, its entire fleet was temporarily grounded. That move was prompted after a fire broke out on one of JAL's Dreamliners, and an All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight was forced to make an emergency landing because of a battery fault and a fire in one of the electrical compartments.

Though the planes have since been allowed back into the air, other issues have emerged.

In July, a fire broke out on a 787 jet operated by Ethiopian Airlines while it was parked at Heathrow airport. It was traced to the upper rear part of the plane.

Then in August, ANA said it had found damage to the battery wiring on two 787 locator transmitters during checks.

However, despite the issues the Dreamliner is still considered to be one of the most advanced planes in the industry and continues to remain popular.

Boeing has received orders for more than 950 jets since its launch.

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