Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Japan grounds 787 fleet over safety

An All Nippon Airways Boeing 787 sits at Takamatsu airport in Takamatsu, western Japan after it made an emergency landing (AP/Kyodo News)

Japan's major airlines have grounded their Boeing 787 planes for safety checks, hours 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.

The 787, known as the Dreamliner, is Boeing's newest and most technologically advanced jet and the company is counting heavily on its success.

But 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 787 aircraft would not be flying. The grounding was done voluntarily by the airlines.

The ministry categorised the 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.

ANA executives apologised, 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.

A man in his 60s was taken to the hospital for minor hip injuries after going down the emergency slides at the airport, the fire brigade said. The other 128 passengers and eight crew members of the ANA domestic flight were uninjured, according to ANA.

The 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 ministry had already started a separate inspection on Monday on another 787 jet, operated by Japan Airlines, which had leaked fuel at Tokyo's Narita airport after flying back from Boston, Massachusetts, where it had also leaked fuel.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said it was "monitoring a preliminary report of an incident in Japan earlier today involving a Boeing 787". It said the incident would be included in the comprehensive review the FAA began last week of the 787 critical systems, including design, manufacture and assembly. US government officials were quick to say that the plane is safe - nearly 50 of them are in the skies now.

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