Europe, Japan join US in grounding Dreamliners

Friday 18 January 2013 12.50
Europe, Japan and India have joined the United States in grounding Boeing's 787 Dreamliner passenger jets
Europe, Japan and India have joined the United States in grounding Boeing's 787 Dreamliner passenger jets

Europe, Japan and India have joined the United States in grounding Boeing's 787 Dreamliner passenger jets while battery-related problems are investigated.

The lightweight, mainly carbon-composite plane has been plagued by recent mishaps.

Concerns have been raised over its use of new technology, such as lithium-ion batteries.

Yesterday, there was an emergency landing of a Japanese domestic flight after warning lights indicated a battery problem.

The US Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded Boeing's newest commercial airliner.

The US FAA said carriers would have to demonstrate the batteries were safe before the planes could resume flying. It gave no details on when that might happen.

Other regulators followed suit today.

It is the first such action against a US-made passenger plane since the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 had its airworthiness certificate suspended following a deadly crash in Chicago in 1979, analysts said.

Boeing has sold around 850 of the new planes, with 50 delivered to date.

Around half of those have been in operation in Japan, but airlines in India, South America, Poland, Qatar and Ethiopia, as well as United Airlines in the United States, are also flying the aircraft, which has a list price of $207m (€155m).

Airlines are wrestling with gaps in their scheduling, with most of that Dreamliner fleet now effectively out of action as engineers and regulators make urgent checks, primarily to the plane's batteries and complex electronics.

Japan Airlines Co said the 787 grounding would lead to three flight cancellations, affecting more than 500 passengers.

A spokesman for Air India said no flights had been cancelled as the airline was using other planes.

"We're working out a plan to handle the situation, and will hopefully know by this evening how we should go about it," said G Prasada Rao.

Motohisa Tachikawa, spokesman for JTB, a Tokyo-based travel services firm, said there had not yet been any direct impact on flight bookings.

"I'm sure JAL and ANA are furiously trying to assign replacement planes for those that are grounded. How and when they will make that clear will impact our situation," he said.

Keeping the 787s on the ground could cost ANA alone more than $1.1m a day, Mizuho Securities calculated, noting the Dreamliner was key to the airline's growth strategy.

Regulators in Japan and India said it was unclear when the Dreamliner could be back in action. A spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency said the region would follow the FAA's grounding order.

Poland's state-controlled LOT Airlines is the sole European airline currently operating the 787.

LOT spokesman Marek Klucinski told Polish TVN24 channel that the airline had not encountered any similar problems with its two 787s, and was still taking delivery of the remaining three it had ordered from Boeing.

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," CEO Jim McNerney said. "The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities."

The use of new battery technology is among the cost-saving features of the 787, which Boeing says burns 20% less fuel than rival jetliners using older technology.