(NEW YORK) — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered the grounding of Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets until their operators prove that batteries on the planes are safe. Several planes operated by overseas carriers have run into trouble recently, the latest because of a suspected battery fire on board.
The FAA order applied to the six 787s being flown by United Airlines, which will need to prove to the FAA that there is no battery fire risk on those planes.
“Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe and in compliance,” the FAA said in a statement Wednesday. “The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.”
The FAA’s “emergency airworthiness directive” came after two Japanese airlines grounded their Boeing 787 Dreamliners following a forced emergency landing Tuesday.
An emergency airworthiness directive is one that requires an operator to fix or address any problem before flying again.
United Airlines responded Wednesday night with a statement: “United will immediately comply with the Airworthiness Directive and will work closely with the FAA and Boeing on the technical review as we work toward restoring 787 service. We will begin reaccommodating customers on alternate aircraft.”
All Nippon Airways (ANA) said a battery warning light and a burning smell were detected in the cockpit and the cabin, forcing the Dreamliner, on a domestic flight, to land at Takamatsu Airport in Japan.
The plane landed safely about 45 minutes after it took off and all 128 passengers and eight crew members had to evacuate using the emergency chutes. Two people sustained minor injuries on their way down the chute, Osamu Shinobe, ANA senior executive vice president, told a news conference in Tokyo.
ANA and its rival, Japan Airlines (JAL), subsequently grounded their Dreamliner fleets. ANA operates 17 Dreamliner planes, while JAL has seven in service.
Both airlines said the Dreamliner fleet would remain grounded at least through Thursday.
ANA said the battery in question during Tuesday’s incident was the same lithium-ion type battery that caught fire on board a JAL Dreamliner in Boston last week. Inspectors found liquid leaking from the battery, and said it was “discolored”
Japan’s transport ministry categorized the problem as a “serious incident” that could have led to an accident.
John Hansman, an MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics, said, “If this was an actual fire, that’s a major problem. And it would be a major problem even if nothing happened over the past week.”
The FAA ordered a comprehensive review of the 787’s design in a news conference Jan. 11 with Boeing. But the agency assured the public that the 787s were safe to continue flying while they looked into the fleet’s design and safety measures.
After the latest incident, but before the FAA airworthiness directive, Boeing said, “We will be working with our customer and the appropriate regulatory agencies.”
The Japanese Transport Ministry dispatched its own inspectors to Takamatsu Airport Wednesday. A spokesman said the Transport Safety Board and Civil Aviation Bureau will conduct separate investigations.
A fire broke out Jan. 7 on an empty JAL Dreamliner at Boston’s Logan Airport after a non-stop flight from Tokyo. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze.
One day later, a different Dreamliner jet owned by JAL sprang a leak from its number-one engine right before takeoff at Logan Airport, spilling about 40 gallons of fuel onto the runway. It had to be towed back to the gate before taking off later that day.
ANA cancelled a domestic flight to Tokyo Jan. 9 after a computer wrongly indicated there was a problem with the Boeing 787’s brakes.
A 3-foot-long crack appeared in the cockpit window of an ANA 787 flying in Japan Jan. 11.
Another JAL Dreamliner leaked fuel while undergoing tests at the airport near Tokyo Jan. 13. It was the same plane involved in the Jan. 8 incident in Boston.
No one was injured in any of those incidents, but JAL has followed ANA’s lead and also ordered their entire 787 feet to be grounded.
“As a result of the incident involving another airline’s 787 in Japan today, to ensure safety, JAL has decided to cancel its 787 operations today,” JAL said in a statement.
Six 787s have been delivered to the United States, all purchased by United, while there are 50 flying worldwide, including Poland and Chile.
“It’s a rough couple weeks for Boeing and ANA,” Hansman of MIT said. “I think clearly in the short term this type of bad press has been tough for Boeing. I think in the long haul, this is a good airplane. It’s in a good market.”
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