Air India grounds Dreamliner fleet

January 18, 2013 - 3:39:22 am

NEW DELHI: Aviation minister Ajit Singh said yesterday ailing Air India should be entitled to “reimbursement” from US giant Boeing after the state-owned airline’s fleet of Dreamliners was grounded over safety concerns.

Air India suspended operations of its fleet of Boeing Dreamliners yesterday along with many other airlines around the world until a fire risk linked to the plane’s batteries is fixed.

“I am sure this grounding will entitle Air India to some reimbursement,” Ajit Singh told NDTV network.

Singh did not name any figure, saying India would have to “wait until we get some clarity on the issue”.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all US-registered Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on Wednesday to address the potential battery fire risk and issued a security advisory alerting international aviation authorities.

Air India and Boeing had earlier concluded negotiations for an undisclosed sum in compensation over a four-year delay in delivery of the Dreamliner because of production problems at the company.

Indian officials had said they were seeking up to $1bn in compensation for the delays but neither side has disclosed whether the money has been paid. 

Air India bought 27 Dreamliners as part of a 2005 multi-billion-dollar deal. It received the first plane last September and now has six with the remaining 21 due to arrive by 2016.

Boeing’s troubled next-generation model has suffered a series of glitches, although Boeing insists the plane is safe.

“We have asked Air India to ground all six Dreamliners after getting an advisory from the FAA citing safety concerns,” Arun Mishra, the Director-General of Civil Aviation said.

K Swaminathan, a spokesman for Air India, said the carrier would await approval from Indian regulators before putting the Dreamliner back into service.

The 27 Dreamliners are part of  111 planes ordered by Air India from Boeing and Airbus to rejuvenate its aeging fleet and turn around the airline’s loss-making operations.

The Dreamliners have been expected to reduce Air India’s fuel costs because of their lighter weight. “We can’t say when we will allow it to fly again — it depends on when Boeing gives us satisfaction over safety concerns,” Mishra said.

Air India expects the technical problems with its newly acquired Boeing 787 aircraft would soon be resolved. “We are confident that these technical problems will be resolved soon. The Boeing company is to submit its initial findings report to the FAA today,” a senior Air India official said.

According to the Air India official, some international airlines which operate the B-787 had faced problems with the aircraft’s battery systems’ getting overheated. Recently, a smoke alarm was activated in a domestic flight operating in Japan.

“As far as the initial reports go, there is a fire risk associated with enhanced use of battery systems on board which have replaced many traditional hydraulic systems, thereby making the aircraft lighter. As this incident has happened only once, an initial investigation is in the offing,” the official said.

The grounding — an unusual action for a new plane — focuses on one of the more risky design choices made by Boeing, namely to make extensive use of lithium ion batteries aboard its airplanes for the first time.

The batteries are part of an electrical system that replaces many mechanical and hydraulic ones common in previous jets.

When contacted, DGCA said it would wait for the results of the FAA’s inquiry into Boeing’s ability to fix the fire risk, linked to battery systems on board the aircraft.AFP/ians