Further Dreamliner groundings
Europe, Japan and India joined the United States in grounding Boeing’s 787, a day after a second incident involving battery failure caused one of the Dreamliner passenger jets to make an emergency landing.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Wednesday it would temporarily ground Boeing’s newest commercial airliner and insisted airlines would have to demonstrate the lithium ion batteries were safe before they could resume flying. It gave no details on when that might happen.
It is the first such action against a US-made passenger plane since the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 was grounded in 1979 after a deadly crash in Chicago, analysts said.
Japanese transport ministry vice-minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said the grounding was for an indefinite period, and India’s aviation regulator said it was unclear when the aircraft would be back in service. A spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency said the region would follow the US grounding order. Poland’s LOT Airlines is the only European airline currently operating the 787.
Boeing said in a statement it was confident the 787 was safe and it stood by the plane’s integrity.
“Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of the Boeing Company to assist,” chief executive Jim McNerney said.
Passengers leaving United Airlines Flight 1426 in Houston, which had taken off from Los Angeles moments before the FAA announcement, reported an incident-free trip.
“I fly over 100,000 miles a year,” said Brett Boudreaux, a salesman from Lake Charles, Louisiana. “That was one of the most relaxing flights I’ve ever had. I hope they sort it out. It’s a hell of a plane.”
Boeing shares fell 2 per cent in after-hours trading to $72.75 after the FAA announcement on Wednesday.
“Ultimately, you can view it as a positive thing if they can resolve what the issues are and give people confidence in the safety of the aircraft. In the near-term, though, it’s a negative. It’s going to force the company to make significant investments,” said Ken Herbert, an analyst at Imperial Capital in San Francisco.
The 787, which has a list price of €156 million, represents a leap in the way planes are designed and built, but the project has been plagued by cost overruns and years of delays. Some have suggested Boeing’s rush to get planes built after those delays resulted in the recent problems, a charge the company denies.
In Wednesday's incident, All Nippon Airways Co Ltd said instruments aboard a domestic flight indicated a battery error, triggering emergency warnings. The incident was described by a transport ministry official as “highly serious” - language used in international safety circles as indicating there could have been an accident. Both ANA and Japan Airlines then grounded their 24 Dreamliners pending checks.
The use of new battery technology is among the cost-saving features of the 787, which Boeing says burns 20 per cent less fuel than rival jetliners using older technology.
Lithium ion batteries can catch fire if they are overcharged and, once alight, they are difficult to put out as the chemicals produce oxygen, Boeing’s chief engineer for the 787, Mike Sinnett, told reporters last week. He said lithium ion was not the only battery choice, but “it was the right choice”.
In Asia, only the Japanese and Air India have the Dreamliner in service, but other airlines are among those globally to have ordered around 850 of the new aircraft. Chile-based LAN also grounded its three 787s in compliance with the FAA warning.