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FAA grounds Boeing 787 Dreamliner

'Potential battery fire' cited in emergency plane landing

By Dominic Gates

The Seattle Times

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16 2013 11:35 p.m. MST

A Dreamliner sits at Takamatsu airport in Takamatsu, Japan, after it made an emergency landing and passengers evacuated from it Wednesday. All Nippon Airways said a cockpit message showed battery problems.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SEATTLE (MCT) — Days after declaring the 787 Dreamliner to be safe, the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday grounded Boeing Co.'s newest jet until its batteries are proved to be safe.

"The FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations," the agency said in a statement following a meeting in Washington.

"Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration that the batteries are safe," the statement added.

All Nippon Airways on Wednesday confirmed in a statement that its 787 made an emergency landing in Japan because of an overheated main battery and "an unusual smell in the cockpit as well as in the cabin."

The battery was found to be blackened after the incident.

The in-flight All Nippon Airways battery incident followed an earlier Japan Airlines 787 battery incident on the ground in Boston last week. On Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787's critical systems.

The FAA's order Wednesday was prompted by the fact that both incidents "resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage and smoke," the statement said. "The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment."

United Airlines is the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways temporarily grounded their fleets Wednesday. The only other operators of the airplane are Air India, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, LAN of Chile and LOT of Poland.

When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive on an airplane it has certified, such as the 787, overseas civil aviation authorities generally take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.

On Wednesday, the agency said that "in addition to the continuing review of the aircraft's design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft's certification."

Boeing insisted last week after the fire in Boston that the new high-energy lithium-ion batteries used on the Dreamliner are safe.

The JAL 787 involved in the Logan incident was a brand-new jet, Dreamliner No. 84, which Boeing had delivered to the airline just three weeks earlier.

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