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US joins investigation into Boeing 787 Dreamliner

US safety officials have arrived in Japan to help assess Boeing's malfunctioning aircraft.

The US has today joined the investigation into the problematic Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft that has prompted the entire fleet to be temporarily suspended from flight. The plane is already under assessment by officials from Boeing, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), after a series of incidents raised questions over its safety.

The planes, which Boeing had hailed the future of air travel because of their innovative system and design, had suffered numerous problems including an electrical fire, fuel leaks, as well as experiencing issues with its brakes. The largest cause for concern, however, are the plane's lithium ion batteries.

GS Yuasa Corp, the Japanese company that makes the Dreamliner’s batteries has sent three engineers to aid the investigation, which is taking place at Takamatsu Airport in western Japan. A spokesperson for GS Yuasa Corp has said,

"Our company's battery has been vilified for now, but it only functions as part of a whole system. So we're trying to find out exactly where there was a problem within the system."

The recent emergency landing of the 787 has been deemed “highly serious” by the Japanese government, and proved to be the catalyst for the first major aircraft grounding since 1979. The investigation is proving detrimental to planemaker Boeing, whose shares had dropped more than 3pc to $74.35 (£46.51) yesterday.

Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney, has released a statement on the issue, stating that safety is their “highest priority”. McNerney went on to say,

“We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity.  We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787's safety and to return the airplanes to service.”

But Robert Stallard, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets believes that consequences may be more severe for Boeing,

“What started as a series of relatively minor, isolated incidents now threatens to overhang Boeing until it can return confidence.”

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.