Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Federal Aviation Administration Grounds United States Boeing 787 Dreamliner Flights

Updated January 16, 2013, 6:43 p.m. ET


The Wall Street Journal

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered the immediate temporary halt of U.S. Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner flights on Wednesday, saying it requires a "corrective action plan" before flights can resume—and hasn't released a timetable for when that might happen.

The agency said it would work with Boeing and airlines to develop a plan to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible. United Continental Holdings Inc.'s  United Airlines said it would immediately ground its six 787s under the FAA order.

Japan's two main airlines earlier Wednesday suspended the jetliner from service after a new incident that prompted an emergency landing. The move raised prospects that problems related to the batteries and electrical troubles might be broader than previously experienced after a succession of incidents, though other airlines continued to fly a jetliner that U.S. regulators last week deemed "safe."

Both All Nippon Airways Co. —which cut short a domestic flight Wednesday after alarms indicated smoke and a possible emergency—and Japan Airlines Co. said they would voluntarily keep all their Dreamliners on the ground at least through Thursday, pending investigations into the nature of the plane's problems.

U.S. air-safety regulators, who launched a comprehensive review of the 787 program last week, said they were dispatching an investigator to Japan.

Boeing shares fell 3.4% at $74.34 on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday. A spokesman for Boeing said the company was in touch with ANA over the incident. "We're aware of the event and working with our customer," he said.

The two Japanese carriers between them operate 24 of the 50 Dreamliners in service, and ANA was the first airline to fly the plane when it entered service in 2011 after more than three years of delays caused by production and design problems.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it is assisting local air-safety regulators in Japan who are leading a probe of the latest incident. The FAA said it "will include the incident as part of the comprehensive review" launched last Friday.

The NTSB said initial reports indicate the ANA crew "received multiple messages in the cockpit concerning the battery and other systems that were affected, and also reported smoke in the cockpit and an odor in the cabin."

The trouble emerged about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in Japan, when an alarm on ANA Flight 692 bound for Tokyo indicated a problem with the jet's main battery about 15 minutes into a 90-minute flight. Soon after, a "burning-like smell" began to waft through the cabin and cockpit, the airline said. "It came from the front. It smelled like burning plastic," Kenichi Kawamura, one of the passengers on board, later recounted in a phone interview.

About 40 minutes after takeoff from Yamaguchi-Ube Airport in southern Japan, the plane made an emergency landing at Takamatsu Airport on the southern island of Shikoku, 400 miles from the plane's destination. After the plane landed safely, seven of the emergency-evacuation slides shot out of the exits.

The head of the cabin crew yelled: "Evacuate! Leave your belongings and escape," said Mr. Kawamura, a 36-year-old aide to a Japanese politician. All 129 passengers, six cabin attendants and the two pilots slid down the open chutes onto the isolated runway. Three passengers reported minor injuries that occurred during the evacuation.

Wednesday's incident has expanded the world-wide probe of the 787's electrical troubles. After previous reported problems, officials had said they were examining the electrical system on the 787 broadly, but all the recent incidents involved components in the aft electrical-equipment bay located behind the wings. The latest problem emerged in a forward bay that until now had been free from scrutiny. This bay sits underneath the flight deck and behind the nose landing gear.

Japan's transport ministry designated Wednesday's incident as "serious," meaning officials concluded the problem could cause a future incident, setting off an immediate investigation by the Japan Transport Safety Board, which dispatched a team to the scene.

All Nippon said the exact cause of Wednesday's incident was still undetermined. Company officials did say that when they opened the forward electronic-equipment bay where the battery was installed, they discovered that the battery's blue cover had turned black "as though it had been burnt" and electrolysis solution had leaked.

ANA said the Dreamliner involved in Wednesday's emergency landing had battery problems in the past. One of the aircraft's two batteries was replaced in October after it failed to start the jet's engines, the battery's primary function. It was the replacement battery that had the problems Wednesday.

The Japanese carrier has grounded all of its 17 Dreamliners for Wednesday and Thursday to allow for inspections, leading to the cancellation of some domestic flights. It said alternate aircraft would be used for international flights on Thursday.

Japan Airlines said it, too, would withdraw its Dreamliners from service for Wednesday and Thursday, affecting 1,450 and 650 passengers respectively. JAL has seven 787s. Two were removed from service last week after the Boston fire and a separate fuel leak. The other five were grounded Wednesday.

LOT Polish Airlines SA said its inaugural 787 flight from Warsaw to Chicago took off as planned. State-run Air India said its six Dreamliners were operating normally.

Qantas Airways Ltd. of Australia said it is "confident" the 787 problems will be resolved before it takes its first deliveries in the second half of this year.

—Hiroyuki Kachi and Kosaku Narioka contributed to this article.


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