Dreamliner: Most Boeing 787 planes grounded on safety fears

Jan 17 2013

Airlines and regulators have grounded the majority of Boeing's flagship 787 Dreamliner planes amid continuing safety concerns.

Airlines in Chile and India have temporarily halted 787 flights, following a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directive.

European regulators have also followed suit, ordering that planes be grounded.

Boeing said the planes were safe and that it stood by the integrity of the Dreamliner.

A string of issues in recent weeks have raised questions about the 787.

Dreamliners have suffered incidents including fuel leaks, a cracked cockpit window, brake problems and an electrical fire. However, it is the battery problems that have caused the most concern.

On Wednesday, an All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight made an emergency landing because of a battery malfunction. That caused them to ground all 17 of their Dreamliners and Japan Airways followed suit.

'Every necessary step'

The US authority the FAA said that airlines must demonstrate battery safety before flights can resume.

The FAA added that it had alerted the international aviation community of its airworthiness directive so that other authorities could take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their countries.

The European Aviation Safety Agency has also ordered that 787 planes be grounded - a directive that affects Poland's Lot Airlines as the only European airline currently flying 787s.

Lot Airlines was due to launch its 787 transatlantic service this week. It went ahead with its first flight from Warsaw to Chicago on Wednesday afternoon, but cancelled the return flight.

Leithen Francis, from Aviation Week, said airlines had little choice but to ground planes.

"When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive civil aviation and airlines around the world have to follow the FAA airworthiness directive, particularly in regards to the 787 because it a US-designed and developed aircraft," he told the BBC.

Boeing said it supported the FAA but added it was confident the 787 was safe.

Chief executive Jim McNerney said: "We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the travelling public of the 787's safety and to return the airplanes to service.

"Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers."

Boeing shares closed down more than 3% on Wall Street on Wednesday.

Complying airlines

United Airlines, the only US airline currently operating Dreamliners, said it would immediately comply with the FAA's directive and would begin re-accommodating customers on alternative aircraft.

Chile's LAN announced it would suspend usage of its three Dreamliners in co-ordination with the Chilean Aeronautical Authority.

Indian aviation regulators also complied by ordering Air India to stop operating its 787s.

"The FAA has issued an advisory to ground the Dreamliners. We took a decision after that," said director general of civil aviation Arun Mishra.

"As of now there is no clarity on when the Dreamliners will be back in service. Boeing has to satisfy everyone with safety standards."

All together more than four-fifths of the 787s in use are now not flying.

Mr Francis said this could have an effect on airlines currently considering ordering 787s, causing them to choose rival Airbus' A330 instead, which is a comparable aircraft and a proven product.

Under investigation

Late on Wednesday, the FAA said it would work with the manufacturer and carriers on an action plan to allow the US 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.

"The in-flight Japanese battery incident followed an earlier 787 battery incident that occurred on the ground in Boston on January 7, 2013," the regulator said.

"The AD (airworthiness directive) is prompted by this second incident involving a lithium ion battery."

It said the battery failures resulted in the release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke, and the cause of the failures was under investigation.

"These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment," the FAA said.

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News 2013 BBC


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