Business

FAA grounds Boeing 787 Dreamliners pending safety check

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The FAA has grounded the Boeing 787 Dreamliners pending a safety check of the plane's lithium batteries. The move follows a series of incidents and a decision by two airlines in Japan to voluntarily ground their planes.

United Airlines is currently the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service.

"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.

United Airlines said in 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."

Japan's two biggest airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, voluntarily grounded all their Dreamliners for safety checks Wednesday after a plane was forced to make an emergency landing - 137 people were evacuated on an emergency chute.

ANA said less than an hour after takeoff, a battery warning light went off, and there was a burning smell detected in the cockpit and the cabin. This forced the 787 on a domestic flight to land at Takamatsu airport in western Japan. After the landing, inspectors found the plane was leaking electrolyte, and there were burn marks around the main battery, which is located below the cockpit.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it is sending an investigator to Japan to join the probe.

The Dreamliner is Boeing's newest and most technologically advanced jet. Only 50 are in service worldwide, but a number of safety issues have cropped up, including a cracked windshield, a battery fire and two fuel leaks. Boeing has brushed off the problems as growing pains for a new aircraft.

Following the FAA's action, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said in a statement, "The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority. Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible ... We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity."

The 787 relies more than any other modern airliner on electrical signals to help power nearly everything the plane does. It's also the first Boeing plane to use rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which charge faster and weigh less than other airplane batteries. Most of the 787 is made from lightweight composites instead of aluminum.

News of the latest 787 problems sank Boeing's stock Wednesday by $2.60 to $74.34, a loss of 3 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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