All Dreamliners sent to hangars

January 18, 2013 - 2:13:04 am

TOKYO/SEATTLE: Airlines scrambled yesterday to rearrange flights as countries in Europe, Africa and Asia joined the United States in grounding Boeing Co’s 787 Dreamliner passenger jets while battery-related problems are investigated.

Poland’s state-controlled LOT Airlines said it would seek compensation from Boeing for grounding its two planes. It expects delivery of three more Dreamliners by the end of March, but would only take them if the technical issues have been resolved, deputy chief Tomasz Balcerzak told a news conference.

The lightweight, mainly carbon-composite plane has been plagued by recent mishaps, raising concerns over its use of lithium-ion batteries. An All Nippon Airways domestic flight made an emergency landing on Wednesday after warning lights indicated a battery problem.

“While it is entirely possible that the current battery issue is resolved in short order, it is also equally possible that the 787s current certification could be called into question,” BB&T Capital Markets analyst Carter Leake wrote yesterday, cutting his rating on the stock to “underweight.”

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday temporarily grounded Boeing’s newest commercial airliner, saying carriers would have to demonstrate the batteries were safe before the planes could resume flying. It gave no details on when that might happen.

It is the first such action since the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 had its airworthiness certificate suspended following a deadly crash in Chicago in 1979, analysts said.

Boeing has sold about 850 of its new planes, with 50 delivered to date. Around half of those have been in operation in Japan, but airlines across continents are also flying the 787, which has a list price of $207m.

With most of that Dreamliner fleet now effectively out of action as engineers and regulators make checks, primarily of the plane’s batteries and complex electronics systems, airlines are wrestling with gaps in their scheduling.

Japan Airlines Co said it cancelled eight Dreamliner flights between Tokyo and San Diego until January 25, affecting some 1,290 passengers, and would switch aircraft for another 70 flights scheduled to fly the 787. Air India said it would use other planes on scheduled 

Dreamliner flights.

Keeping the 787s on the ground could cost ANA alone more than $1.1m a day, Mizuho Securities calculated, noting the Dreamliner was key to the airline’s growth strategy.

Regulators in Japan and India said it was unclear when the Dreamliner could be back in the air. A spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency said the region would follow the FAA’s grounding order.

Boeing said in a statement it was confident the 787 was safe and it stood by the plane’s integrity.

Passengers leaving United’s flight 1426 in Houston, which took off from Los Angeles moments before the FAA announcement, reported an incident-free trip. 

“I fly over 100,000 miles a year,” said Brett Boudreaux, a salesman from Lake Charles, Louisiana. 

“That was one of the most relaxing flights I’ve ever had. I hope they sort it out. It’s a hell of a plane.” REUTERS