Dreamliners grounded around the world over battery fire fears
Published Thursday, January 17, 2013 10:27AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 17, 2013 10:59AM EST
Nearly all of the large, technically advanced Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft in commercial operation around the world have been grounded following a string of problems in recent weeks.
India, the U.S., Europe, Japan, Chile, Poland and Ethiopia have all announced a temporary stoppage of Dreamliner flights after reports of problems with the plane's lithium ion batteries and the risk of fire.
The two biggest announcements came Wednesday when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Japan's two largest airlines took their planes out of service following an emergency landing by a Japan Airlines 787.
"The aviation authorities, as they should be, are very, very careful so they're making sure they go out of their way because above all, safety and keeping planes in the air safely is the number one thing for pilots and indeed for the whole industry," airline industry analyst Karl Moore told CTV's Canada AM.
The moves Wednesday came the same day one of Japan's 17 Dreamliners was forced to make an emergency landing after a cockpit message indicated the plane was having battery problems, and a burning smell was detected in the cockpit and cabin. Several days earlier, crews on two U.S. 787s also reported a burning smell in the cabin, and one had a fuel leak on the tarmac.
In the first battery-related incident on Jan. 7, a Japan Airlines Dreamliner caught fire shortly after landing at Boston's Logan International Airport. The plane was empty, and it took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze.
Once the FAA announced its decision, others quickly followed suit. Canadian airlines are not operating any 787s currently, but Air Canada has ordered 37 for next year.
Initial troubles with the Dreamliner, including a cracked windshield, fuel leak and even unusual smells, could be considered normal "teething problems" for a relatively new plane, Moore said.
However, he said the risk of fire aboard an aircraft is a serious threat which justifies the decision to ground the planes until a solution is found.
"There's absolutely nothing happening at Boeing in that division other than focusing on that problem. It's all hands on deck," Moore said. "They absolutely understand what it is and they've got everyone that can possibly work on it focused on it and I'm confident Boeing will deliver a solution in a reasonable amount of time because they are a very, very competent company and this is absolutely critical to their future."
The 787 has been described by Boeing as a "game changer" -- a description Moore said is appropriate. The plane can carry more passengers and travel farther than conventional aircraft with a smaller environmental footprint, largely due to its use of lightweight composite materials and lithium ion batteries. Those batteries, however, have a higher risk of catching fire when compared with traditional batteries.
Following are some key details about airlines that have grounded their Dreamliners:
- Ethiopia Airlines has grounded its four 787s
- Poland's airline LOT -- the only European airline flying Dreamliners -- has grounded its two 787s after the European Aviation Safety Agency issued a directive
- The U.S. has grounded all 787s, meaning United Airlines' six planes are sitting on the tarmac. No other U.S. airline flies Dreamliners
- Japan's ANA, which flies 17 787s, and Japan Airlines, which flies seven, have both grounded their 787s
- Air India on Thursday grounded its fleet of six 787s
- Chile's LAN Airlines has also grounded its three 787s
That accounts for 45 of the 50 Dreamliners Boeing has shipped since the first one was delivered to ANA in 2011. Boeing has booked orders for 800, however, from airlines around the world attracted by the plane's increased capacity and fuel efficiency.
Earlier this week Ethiopian Airlines announced record-length flights with its 787s, becoming the only airline in the world to max out the Dreamliner's design range capabilities by flying them from Washington D.C. to Addis Ababa -- a distance of 11,500 kilometres and the airline's longest-ever flight.
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