Body panel falls off Boeing 787 Dreamliner in flight

SEATTLE/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A body panel fell off a Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by Air India as it came into land on Saturday, the latest glitch for the high-tech jet that has suffered a string of mishaps since its introduction two years ago.

The eight feet by four feet (2.4 metres by 1.2 metres) piece of fuselage fell from the underside of the jet and landed within the perimeter at India's Bangalore airport, officials said.

The pilots of the plane, carrying 148 passengers and crew from Delhi to Bangalore, did not realise the panel was missing until the flight landed, The Times of India reported.

A photo on the newspaper's website showed a large opening in the belly of the plane with components and aircraft structure visible inside.

"It was the mid-underwing-to-body fairing located on the belly of the airplane on the right side," said Boeing spokesman Doug Alder. The part "provides a more aerodynamic surface in flight."

Boeing and Air India said there was no risk to the safety of passengers.

An Air India spokesman said the panel had been sent for examination and the Boeing spokesman said the planemaker was working to understand what caused the panel to detach.

He declined to say whether the plane was made at Boeing's South Carolina factory which has built a number of Air India's jets.

The panel was replaced with one taken from another 787 Dreamliner, the Air India spokesman said. He said eight Dreamliners operated by Air India are in service and a ninth should start flying "anytime now".

"From the safety point of view, there is no hazard at all," the spokesman said. He said authorities were investigating the incident.

Problems that have afflicted the 787 include battery overheating that prompted regulators to ground the entire fleet in January. Flights resumed in April.

Scandinavian operator Norwegian Air has also criticised the plane's reliability.

Despite the problems, Boeing's stock has stayed near record levels. It closed Tuesday at $118.18, down $1.28.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott and Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and David Cowell)

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