You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

Business

Advertisement
Associated Press
Federal officials say they are temporarily grounding Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners until the risk of possible battery fires in Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced plane is addressed.

Boeing’s Dreamliner nightmares continue

The federal government grounded Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced jetliner last week, declaring that the 787 cannot fly again until the risk of battery fires is addressed.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it would work with Boeing and U.S. airlines to develop a plan to allow the Dreamliner to “resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.” United Airlines is the only U.S. carrier with 787s. It has six.

The FAA decision was the latest setback for a plane that was supposed to set a new standard for jet travel but has been beset by one mishap after another.

For the second time in two weeks, a smoking or burning battery has been tied to an emergency aboard a 787. Almost half of the 787s that have been delivered have now been grounded for safety checks. And the latest incident raises the risk that the jet’s electrical problems are more dangerous than previously thought.

So far, no one has suggested that the plane’s fundamental design can’t be fixed. But it’s unclear how much will need to be changed.

The remedy could range from relatively quick-and-easy improvements to more extensive changes that could delay deliveries just as Boeing is trying to speed production up from five planes per month to 10.

On Wednesday, Japan’s All Nippon Airways said pilots smelled something burning and received a cockpit message warning of battery problems while flying from Yamaguchi Ube airport in western Japan to Tokyo.

The plane made an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport in western Japan, and passengers evacuated using inflatable slides.

An inspection found that a flammable liquid had leaked from the main lithium-ion battery, which is below and slightly behind the cockpit. Investigators found burn marks around the damage.

“Anytime you have a fire on board – whether it’s the battery that has caused it or a passenger that caused it or another electrical component – that’s a very serious situation on an aircraft and something not to be taken lightly,” said Kevin Hiatt, president of the Flight Safety Foundation.

Japan’s Kyodo News agency quoted transport ministry investigator Hideyo Kosugi as saying that the liquid leaked through the electrical room floor to the outside of the aircraft.

The transport ministry said the leak could have led to an accident. ANA, which operates 17 of the jets, and Japan Airlines, which has seven, said they won’t fly their 787s until they complete safety checks. That’s almost half of the 50 planes Boeing has delivered since handing the first one over to ANA in late 2011.

Earlier this month, a battery on a Japan Airlines 787 caught fire soon after the plane landed at Boston’s Logan Airport. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the flames.

The 787 is the first plane to make extensive use of lithium-ion batteries, which have raised concerns in the past for their potential to catch fire. The Federal Aviation Administration has given the batteries extra scrutiny and issued a special rule for their use in the 787. The plane has two batteries – the main one near the front and a second one in the rear.

Boeing and the airlines will need to move quickly to determine whether the problem is a flaw in the batteries themselves, in the plane’s wiring or in some other area that’s fundamental to the plane’s electrical system.

Boeing has booked orders for more than 800 of the planes from airlines around the world attracted by its increased fuel efficiency.

The jet’s lightweight design makes it more of a fuel-sipper, and it’s so lightweight in part because it uses electricity to do things that other airplanes do with hot air vented through internal ducts. So a 787 with electrical problems is like a minivan that won’t haul kids. It goes to the heart of what the thing was built to do.

Before it carried paying passengers, the 787 was closely reviewed by Boeing and FAA inspectors.

Mike Sinnett, chief engineer on the 787, said this month that the plane’s batteries have operated through 1.3 million hours and never had an internal fault. He said they were built with multiple protections to ensure that “failures of the battery don’t put the airplane at risk.”

The lithium-ion design was chosen because it’s the only type of battery that can take a large charge in a short amount of time.

Neither GS Yuasa Corp., the Japanese company that supplies the batteries for the 787, nor Thales, which makes the battery charging system, would comment.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways are two of the 787’s biggest customers.

ANA was especially proud of its 787s. Its executives’ business cards and its website read “787” and “We Fly 1st.” ANA got the first one Boeing delivered in late 2011, more than three years late.

Other 787s have had problems with certain electrical panels and fuel leaks.

On Jan. 9, ANA canceled a domestic flight to Tokyo after a computer wrongly indicated there was a problem with the 787’s brakes.

Two days later, ANA reported two new problems with the aircraft – a minor fuel leak and a cracked cockpit windscreen.

Many of the 787s problems are typical of well-established planes around the world, Hiatt said, adding that he would have no qualms about flying aboard a 787.

Advertisement