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Tuesday 20.02.2018 | Name days: Smuidra, Vitauts, Smuidris

Boeing 787 Dreamliner grounding spreads around the world

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American regulators followed the lead of Japanese airlines by grounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on Wednesday, January 16, night, saying a recent series of safety incidents meant urgent action was needed.

The move comes after one of the planes operated by All Nippon Airways made an emergency landing in western Japan, at the Takamatsu airport, which was temporarily closed. The plane landed after a cockpit message showed battery problems. It was the latest of a series of problems including a battery fire and a fuel leak on ANA Dreamliners parked at Logan International Airport in Boston last week. No one has been seriously injured in any of the incidents.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would require airlines to demonstrate that the plane’s cutting-edge batteries were safe before allowing further flights. It has notified regulators in other countries of its action, The Guardian reported.

After the FAA announcement, India and Chile were the next countries to move. Air India spokesman K. Swaminathan said India’s aviation authority had directed the state airline to stop flying the Boeing planes on Thursday morning as it waits for an investigation by Indian regulators to take place. Chile’s LAN airline said it was suspending flights of its three Dreamliners in compliance with the FAA directive.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and other air safety authorities around the world are likely to bring in similar measures now that the FAA has intervened.

Japan’s two leading airlines, All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines, had already grounded their fleets of Boeing 787s after one of the Dreamliner passenger jets made an emergency landing, the latest in a series of incidents that have heightened safety concerns over a plane that many see as the future of commercial aviation.

Given the Dreamliners‘ significantly greater fuel efficiency than most models, airlines have been queuing up to buy a model that promises greener, quieter – and cheaper – aviation. The aircraft’s design also makes emerging long-haul destinations feasible with fewer passengers. In Britain, British Airways, Thomson and Virgin have placed orders, with BA expecting to operate the first of its 24 Dreamliners this year.

But an inspection of the All Nippon Airways 787 that made an emergency landing in western Japan found that electrolytes, a flammable battery fluid, had leaked from the plane’s main lithium-ion battery. Investigators found burn marks around the damage, Associated Press reported.

The electrolyte fluid also conducts electricity, so as it spreads it can cause short-circuits and ignite fires. And its corrosiveness raises concern about whether a leak might weaken a key support structure of the plane, even though the 787 is the first airliner to be made primarily from lightweight composite materials that are less susceptible to corrosion than aluminum, safety experts said.

The release of battery fluid is especially concerning, safety experts said. The fluid is extremely corrosive, which means it can quickly damage electrical wiring and components. The 787 relies far more than any other airliner in operation on electrical systems to function.

The 787 is the first airliner to make extensive use of lithium-ion batteries to help power its energy-hungry electrical systems. The batteries charge faster and can be better molded to space-saving shapes compared with other airplane batteries.

“Unfortunately, what Boeing did to save weight is use the same batteries that are in the electric cars, and they are running into the same problems with the 787 as the problems that have shown up in electric cars,” said Paul Czysz, professor emeritus of aeronautical engineering at St. Louis University.

The lithium-ion batteries in several Chevrolet Volts used for crash-testing caught fire in 2011. General Motors engineers eventually figured out that the fires were the result of a battery coolant leak that caused electrical shorts after side-impact crash tests.

Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chairman, president and CEO, said the company is working with the FAA to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. “We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity,” he said in a statement. “We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787’s safety and to return the airplanes to service.”

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