Boeing 787: More Nightmares for Dreamliner After Incident Grounds Jets in Japan

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By ELAINE KURTENBACH and YURI KAGEYAMA

TOKYO -- Japan's two biggest airlines grounded all their Boeing 787 aircraft for safety checks Wednesday after one was forced to make an emergency landing in the latest blow for the new jet.

All Nippon Airways said 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.

Dreamliner GroundedThe 787, known as the Dreamliner, is Boeing's (BA) newest and most technologically advanced jet, and the company is counting heavily on its success. Since its launch, which came after delays of more than three years, the plane has been plagued by a series of problems including a battery fire and fuel leaks. Japan's ANA and Japan Airlines are major customers for the jet and among the first to fly it.

Japan's transport ministry said it received notices from ANA, which operates 17 of the jets, and Japan Airlines, which has seven, that all their 787s would not be flying. The grounding was done voluntarily by the airlines.

The earliest manufactured jets of any new aircraft usually have problems and airlines run higher risks in flying them first, said Brendan Sobie, Singapore-based chief analyst at CAPA-Center for Aviation. Since about half the 787 fleet is in Japan, more problems are cropping up there.

"There are always teething problems with new aircraft and airlines often are reluctant to be the launch customer of any new airplanes," Sobie said. "We saw it with other airplane types, like the A380 but the issues with the A380 were different," he said.

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

It was unclear how long the Dreamliners would remain grounded. ANA said 14 flights were changed to other aircraft, while 31 domestic and seven international were canceled. JAL said eight were canceled, while two were changed to a Boeing 777.

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.

One male in his 60s was taken to the hospital for minor hip injuries after going down an emergency slide from the aircraft, the fire department said. The other 128 passengers and eight crew members were uninjured, according to ANA.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Japan Emergency LandingThe grounding in Japan was the first for the 787, whose problems had been brushed off by Boeing as teething pains for a new aircraft. The transport ministry had already started a separate inspection Monday of another 787 jet, operated by Japan Airlines, which had leaked fuel at Tokyo's Narita airport after flying back from Boston, where it had also leaked fuel.

A fire ignited Jan. 7 in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit of a Japan Airlines 787 empty of passengers as the plane sat on the tarmac at Boston's Logan International Airport. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze.

ANA canceled a domestic flight to Tokyo on Jan. 9 after a computer wrongly indicated there was a problem with the Boeing 787's brakes. Two days later, the carrier reported two new cases of problems with the aircraft -- a minor fuel leak and a cracked windscreen in a cockpit.

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 can be molded to space-saving shapes compared to other airplane batteries. The plane is made with lightweight composite materials instead of aluminum.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that it is "monitoring a preliminary report of an incident in Japan earlier today involving a Boeing 787."

It said the incident will be included in the comprehensive review the FAA began last week of the 787 critical systems, including design, manufacture and assembly. U.S. government officials have been quick to say that the plane is safe. Nearly 50 of them are in the skies now.

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. Thales, which makes the battery charging system, had no immediate comment.

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

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

Boeing has said that various technical problems are to be expected in the early days of any aircraft model.

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

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is aware of Wednesday's emergency landing in Japan and is gathering information on the incident, said Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the board.

In Wednesday's incident, a cockpit instrument showed a problem with the 787's battery and the pilot noticed an unusual smell, the airline said. The flight requested and was granted permission to make an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport.

Aviation safety expert John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member, said the ANA pilot made the right decision.

"They were being very prudent in making the emergency landing even though there's been no information released so far that indicates any of these issues are related," he said.

But much remains uncertain about the problems being experienced by the 787, said Masaharu Hirokane, analyst at Nomura Securities Co. in Tokyo.

"You need to ensure safety 100 percent, and then you also have to get people to feel that the jet is 100 percent safe," Hirokane said.

___

AP Business Writer Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and AP Transportation Writer Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.


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19 Comments

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Ed Baggett

The plane was made in SC a "right to work" state & is a lemon. Don't get on the damn thing if you value your life .

January 16 2013 at 7:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Ed Baggett's comment
bakethis

union sabotage?

January 16 2013 at 11:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
cmcclarty

Like union is so much better why all the auto recalls.

January 17 2013 at 12:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ectullis

Consequences of outsourcing?

January 16 2013 at 6:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gleam1946

We have re-calls on Toyota and the Japanese ground Boeings.

January 16 2013 at 3:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gleam1946's comment
itacurubi

Toyotas don't carry hundreds of people nor fall from the sky and auger into the earth in a fiery fireball. Other than that, you have a point.

January 16 2013 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pitciarn

New leaps forward in technology always have issues when beint tested or first rolled out. The F-16 was called the "Lawn Dart" until pilots mastered the NEW Fly-By-Wire controls. The F-16 Falcon since 1974 is now the finest fighter used by not only the USA, but 25 other nations. Go figure that one ??

The V-22 Osprey broke all the rules, ran into cost overuns and took over 30 lives during its R & D time. Now the USMC & USAF find its the aircraft of the future for not only combat, but humanitarian use. I foresee a time when it branches into civillian use just as the Jeep & Hummv did in the past.

The British innovation of Vector-Thrust was new with the Harrier jet in the 60's. Once it was masterd by its pilots, the accident rate dropped to no more than any other jet arcraft launched off a carrier. Lets not forget the square windows on the first British passenger jet ? Once it was discoverd why they failed and repaired, the passenger industry moved on to carry millions of passengers safely....

I focused on Military Aircraft in my comments, but they were still cutting-edge aircraft when they were unveiled. All new technology gets the bugs and quirks worked out, has any new Cell or IPhone EVER had issues ?? Once Boeing works out the issues, the 787 will fly for 50 years safely.

January 16 2013 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to pitciarn's comment
alderaforall

the difference between bugs in new cell phones and bugs in airplanes is pretty simple. A dropped phone call vs. an airplane falling out out of the sky killing everyone on that plane and possibly others on the ground. My hat is off to these airlines for not flying the planes.

January 16 2013 at 6:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cmcclarty

Give me a 727 or 707 anyday.

January 17 2013 at 12:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
teddytegman

The sad truth is that no matter where in the entire world the components of this aircraft were manufactured, the result would be the same. The Dreamliner was put into service much too soon. Providing profits for shareholders always takes a priority over providing safety for everyone else.

January 16 2013 at 2:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hemipwr54

Characteristic flaw, nothing to worry about.
When a Boeing jet falls, it just goes Boeing, Boeing.

January 16 2013 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hemipwr54's comment
ttoozz

My fave comment this week

January 16 2013 at 10:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gilbert

This plane will have a higher number of defects then previous Boeing jetliners because Boeing outsourced a large portion of the work on it to keep costs down.

January 16 2013 at 1:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
luvprr

Apparently Toyota still needs to test. In any case, I wonder where those batteries were made? So much of the 787 parts are made out of the US.

January 16 2013 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gary Miller

Don't put me on a 787...no way

January 16 2013 at 1:15 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Gary Miller's comment
alstenzel

Bet you have no problem getting in a car and drive while texting knowing full well that 40,000+ Americans are slaughtered each year on the roads. Or maybe you didn't know that.

January 16 2013 at 3:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
the aol experien

Classic American manufacturing, they build something, take a few flights and say, "Hey it didn't crash, let's sell it." Toyota for any new model tests it for three years, before selling it.

January 16 2013 at 12:18 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to the aol experien's comment
alstenzel

You have no clue of what the aircraft certification process is about.

January 16 2013 at 3:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply