Battery issue forces FAA to ground Boeing 787s
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SEATTLE -- Days after declaring the 787 Dreamliner to be safe, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded Boeing Co.'s newest jet Wednesday until its batteries are proved safe.
"The FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations," the agency said in a statement following a meeting in Washington, D.C. "Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration that the batteries are safe," the statement added.
All Nippon Airways confirmed in a statement Wednesday that its 787 made an emergency landing in Japan because of an overheated main battery and "an unusual smell in the cockpit as well as in the cabin." The battery was found to be blackened after the incident. The in-flight All Nippon Airways battery incident followed an earlier Japan Airlines 787 battery incident on the ground in Boston last week. Last Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787's critical systems.
The FAA's order Wednesday was prompted by the fact that both incidents "resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage and smoke," the statement said. "The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment."
United Airlines is currently the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service.
Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways temporarily grounded their fleets Wednesday. The only other operators of the airplane now are Air India, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, LAN of Chile and LOT of Poland.
When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive on an airplane it has certified, such as the 787, overseas civil aviation authorities generally take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.
On Wednesday, the FAA said that "in addition to the continuing review of the aircraft's design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft's certification."
Boeing insisted last week after the fire in Boston that the new high-energy lithium-ion batteries used on the Dreamliner are safe.
The JAL 787 involved in the Logan incident was a new jet, Dreamliner No. 84, which Boeing had delivered to the airline just three weeks earlier. That plane came off the production line in Everett, Wash., largely finished and did not need to go to Boeing's modification center at the south end of Paine Field for rework.
On Wednesday morning, before the FAA's announcement, Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner abruptly canceled most of a long-planned, day-long strategy meeting of his leadership executives and senior operational employees -- some 900 people gathered at the Washington State Convention Center, including many top engineers. Mr. Conner held just a short question-and-answer session with the employees, answering questions about the emergency landing in Japan and its implications.
But the rest of the day's schedule, including presentations to the crowd by out-of-town industry analysts and top airline executive Willie Walsh, chief executive of the holding company that owns British Airways and Spanish airline Iberia, was postponed until an unspecified later date. Those who had flown in for the meeting left for home early, as Mr. Conner gathered his team to confront the crisis in the 787 program.
First Published January 17, 2013 12:00 am