U.S., Japan ground 787 Dreamliners over battery concerns

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has followed Japan's two largest airlines in grounding Boeing Co.'s new 787 Dreamliner jets after one was forced to make an emergency landing.

Air Canada has ordered 37 of the Boeing jets for delivery next year

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has followed Japan's 2 largest airlines in grounding Boeing Co.'s new 787 Dreamliner jets after one was forced to make an emergency landing 2:54


  • Boeing shares 3% lower

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the temporary grounding of Boeing Co.'s technologically advanced new 787 Dreamliner jets to allow for a safety check of the plane's lithium batteries.

The FAA said Wednesday it will issue an emergency safety order requiring airlines to temporarily cease operating the 787. United Airlines is currently the only U.S. carrier operating 787s. It has six.

Boeing said it was working with investigators to resolve the issue.

"We are confident the 787 is safe, and we stand behind its overall integrity," Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said late Wednesday in a statement.

The grounding follows a move by Japan's two largest airlines, which grounded their fleets of 787 Dreamliner jets earlier Wednesday after one was forced to make an emergency landing.

All Nippon Airways has grounded its fleet of 17 Dreamliners after a cockpit message showed battery problems and a burning smell was detected in the cockpit and the cabin, forcing the 787 on a domestic flight to land at Takamatsu airport in western Japan.

That incident came several days after a pair of events at U.S. airports where the planes had a burning smell in the cabin and a fuel leak on the tarmac. A Japan Airlines plane leaked fuel on the tarmac at Narita airport, after landing a flight from Boston, where it also leaked fuel. After the second incident, JAL grounded the plane indefinitely while authorities investigate.

The Dreamliner is Boeing's most high-profile plane offering in the past several decades. Pitched as the most efficient people mover and environmentally conscious plane on earth, the plane has been plagued by delays and cost overruns since it was first announced.

The two Japanese carriers are among the first airlines in the world to use the planes in their fleets. Together, they own just over half of all 787s that are currently flying, which means 50 per cent of the planes are grounded indefinitely.

Air Canada declined to comment to CBC News for the story, but the airline confirmed it has 37 firm orders for the planes, set to be delivered in 2014.

Japan's transport ministry categorized the problem Wednesday as a "serious incident" that could have led to an accident, and sent officials for further checks to Takamatsu airport.

Boeing shares sank lower on the New York Stock Exchange, closing at $74.34, a drop of 3.4 per cent. In after-hours trading, the stock fell another 2.1 per cent when word of the FAA grounding emerged.

'We are very sorry'

ANA executives apologized, bowing deeply at a hastily called news conference in Tokyo. "We are very sorry to have caused passengers and their family members so much concern," said ANA Senior Executive Vice-President Osamu Shinobe.

An All Nippon Airways flight sits at Takamatsu airport in Takamatsu, western Japan after it made an emergency landing on Wednesday. The flight to Tokyo from Ube in western Japan landed at the airport after a cockpit message showed battery problems, in the latest trouble for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. (Kyodo News/Associated Press)

One male passenger in his 60s was taken to the hospital for minor hip injuries after going down the emergency slides at the airport, the fire department said. The other 128 passengers and eight crew members of the ANA domestic flight were uninjured, according to ANA.

Boeing boasts that the plane is the most technologically advanced on earth, and the incidents are regular growing pains for new planes that in no way endanger public safety.

"Boeing is aware of the diversion of a 787 operated by ANA to Takamatsu in western Japan," Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said. "We will be working with our customer and the appropriate regulatory agencies."

The 787 is the first Boeing plane to use rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which charge faster and can be moulded to space-saving shapes compared to other airplane batteries. But such batteries are known to have the potential to overheat and even catch fire.

"This is a make or break issue for Boeing," University of Toronto business professor Joseph D'Cruz told CBC News. "They've got to fix these and find out what the problems are, [and] they have to be very alert about keeping these aircraft in top-notch condition."

GS Yuasa Corp., the Japanese company that supplies all the lithium ion batteries for the 787, had no comment as the investigation was still ongoing.

In Tokyo, the transport minister, Akihiro Ota, said authorities were taking the incidents seriously.

"These problems must be fully investigated," he said.

With files from The Associated Press