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International Carriers Ground Boeing Dreamliner Fleets

January 17th 2013

Boeing 787

Aviation regulators in Asia and other parts of the world are grounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. They are concerned about the risk of a fire occurring in flight because of issues with the new jet's batteries.

After the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered an indefinite halt to Dreamliner flights, regulators in Japan, India and Chile quickly issued similar directives.

Japan's Vice Transport Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama says the safety of airline passengers is paramount. He explains that the precise nature of the problem with the jet's batteries is not known because the aircraft has a complex electrical system and it will take a thorough investigation to provide answers. Japanese authorities say their initial inspection leads them to believe the batteries are overheating. Airlines and regulators began halting flights of the 787 following a Wednesday morning incident in Japan.

A domestic All Nippon Airways flight bound for Tokyo made an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport after smoke was seen inside the aircraft. The pilot also reported smelling an odor, and instrumentation indicated a battery problem. About half of the 50 Dreamliners in use today are operated by ANA and Japan Airlines.

U.S.-based United Airlines, Air India and Chile's LAN Airlines also have taken the Boeing twin-engine wide-bodied jets out of service since Wednesday. The emergency landing in Japan was the latest in a string of incidents involving lithium ion batteries in the plane that boasts a revolutionary design. It first went into commercial service in November 2011. Other concerns about the aircraft's safety have been expressed following reports of leaking fuel, a cracked windshield and brake problems.

Eight carriers have been operating Dreamliners, which are built mainly from lightweight carbon fiber. Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and LOT Polish Airlines are the other carriers with Dreamliners in their current fleets (in addition to ANA, JAL, United and LAN). Boeing has received orders for 800 more of the fuel-efficient jets.

One of the future recipients, Korean Airlines, is shrugging off concerns about the Dreamliner. The airline issued a news release Thursday saying it is not unusual for such problems to be found with newly operational aircraft. KAL says the 10 planes it is to begin receiving from the end of 2016 will be an upgraded model (the 787-9), and it expects their efficiency and safety will be "better than any other aircraft."

The aircraft manufacturer also issued a statement saying Boeing is “confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity.”

Steve Herman writes for VOA, from where this article is adapted.


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