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Air India grounds all six Dreamliner planes

Source : AGENCIES
Last Updated: Thu, Jan 17, 2013 06:40 hrs
Air hostesses walk next to the parked Air India's Boeing 787 Dreamliner upon its arrival at the airport in New Delhi

New Delhi: Air India on Thursday grounded all its six Boeing-787 Dreamliner planes after a global directive by US regulator, Federal Aviation Administration, to stop operations of all the 50 such planes delivered so far to various airlines.

The FAA directive was immediately adhered to by aviation regulator of countries whose airlines have so far bought these latest aircraft.

Yesterday, Japan had grounded 24 Dreamliner owned by two of its airlines-- ANA (All Nippon Airways) and Japan Airlines.



Air India officials said they have grounded all the six planes in its fleet with immediate effect following the FAA directive and the DGCA advisory.

They said that FAA has directed the grounding of the entire Dreamliner fleet till such time as the aircraft manufacturer Boeing "demonstrate compliance" of various measures the American regulator has asked it to carry out.

However, the officials maintained that its services will not be affected in any major way as flights to Paris and Frankurt operated by the Dreamliner will now be serviced by Boeing 777.

While one of the six planes is always on a standby, three are used on the domestic sector and two on international including Paris and Frankfurt, they said, adding that domestic services would be absorbed by the existing fleet of aircraft.


Security fears

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said on Thursday that Air India will not operate six Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets unless the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gives clearance to operate the aircrafts.

The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) Arun Mishra said on Thursday that India has grounded national carrier Air India's six Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets over the aircraft's safety after the same decision was made by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

He further said that there is no clarity on when the Dreamliners will be back in service.

"Now that the FAA has said that they want to check (the) electrical system in all the planes we will ground them," he told reporters.

"How serious is the problem, how long it will take, we'll know only in a couple of days," he said.

India will not allow the planes to fly again until the FAA and India's own aviation authority certify them as safe, Singh said.

Air India spokesman K. Swaminathan confirmed that the state airline had temporarily stopped operating the aircraft.

Earlier, Ajit Singh had said on late Wednesday evening that India's airline regulator will decide on whether or not to ground national carrier Air India's Boeing Dreamliner jets after the US company submits a report on the aircraft's safety.

"Air India is checking with DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) and DGCA has to decide but there are many other airlines who are still working, even United in USA is working so after discussing with DGCA, air India will decide," Ajit Singh said.

The decision came after Boeing report on the Dreamliner.

Meanwhile Japan's two leading airlines have also grounded their Boeing 787 Dreamliners soon after one of the Dreamliners landed in emergency.

Pilots on the All Nippon Airways (ANA) Dreamliner made the emergency landing in Japan on Wednesday after an apparent battery error triggered warnings in the cockpit.

The action by India comes after Boeing 787s were grounded in Japan and the U.S. after an emergency landing in western Japan highlighted a battery fire risk in the aircraft.

The 787, known as the Dreamliner, is Boeing's newest jet, and the company is counting heavily on its success. Since its launch after delays of more than three years, the plane has been plagued by a series of problems including a battery fire and fuel leaks.

Air India has ordered a total of 27 Dreamliners.


Battery risk


A battery beneath the cockpit of the Boeing 787 forced to make an emergency landing in Japan was swollen from overheating, a safety official said Thursday, as India joined the U.S. and Japan in grounding the technologically advanced aircraft because of fire risk.

U.S. officials, and a Boeing engineer, are due in Japan on Friday to assist with Japan's investigation into the All Nippon Airways 787 that landed in western Japan after a cockpit message showed battery problems and a burning smell was detected in the cockpit and cabin.

The main battery in an electrical room beneath the cockpit was swollen and had leaked electrolyte, safety inspector Hideyo Kosugi said on Japanese broadcaster NHK. Investigators found burn marks around the battery, though it was not thought to have caught fire.

The 787, known as the Dreamliner, is Boeing's newest jet, and the company is counting heavily on its success. Since its launch after delays of more than three years, the plane has been plagued by a series of problems including a battery fire and fuel leaks.

Air India's decision Thursday to ground its fleet of six Boeing 787, under orders from Indian aviation authorities, means that some 36 of the 50 jets in use around the world are now out of action. Japan's ANA, which has 17 of the 787s and Japan Airlines, which has seven, voluntarily halted flights Wednesday after the emergency landing but aviation authorities have now made the grounding an official directive.

In Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration also required U.S. carriers to stop flying 787s until the batteries are demonstrated to be safe. United Airlines has six of the jets and is the only U.S. carrier flying the model. Aviation authorities in other countries usually follow the lead of the country where the manufacturer is based.

Yasuo Ishii, an official with the aviation safety division of Japan's transport ministry, said Japan Airlines and ANA had been directed not to fly their 787s until questions over safety of the aircraft are resolved.

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 for its main electrical system. The batteries charge faster and can be molded to space-saving shapes compared to other airplane batteries, allowing the use of lightweight composite materials instead of aluminum.

Worries over potential fire risks from lithium ion batteries, with their well-known flammability, predate the launch of the 787. In a May 2011 report, the FAA outlined various improvements in containing and preventing onboard fires but also noted that electrolyte leaks could make a fire more hazardous due to the high energy density and power capacity of such batteries.

The FAA had issued special precautions for installation of such batteries on board the 787s.

Boeing said it was working around the clock with investigators.

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

Japan's transport ministry categorized Wednesday's problem as a "serious incident" that could have led to an accident.

It was unclear how long the Dreamliners would be grounded. ANA and JAL canceled some flights or switched aircraft. Other airlines with 787s in their fleets include Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, LAN Airlines and LOT Polish Airlines.

Japan's transport ministry had already started a separate inspection Monday of a 787 operated by Japan Airlines that had leaked fuel in Tokyo and Boston, where the flight originated.

A fire ignited Jan. 7 in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit of an empty Japan Airlines 787 on the tarmac in Boston. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze.

A computer problem, a minor fuel leak and a cracked windscreen in a cockpit were also reported on a 787 in Japan this month.

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

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, also had no immediate comment.

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.





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