FAA Grounds Boeing's 787 Dreamliner

Hard on the heels of news that Japan's two largest airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, had suspended all 787 flights, and the cancellation of a scheduled Qatar Airways flight from London to Doha, the FAA has grounded Boeing's Dreamliner pending a review of the plane's lithium-ion batteries, the suspected source of at least some of the airliner's recent problems.

In a statement on its website, the FAA explained the grounding as follows:

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As a result of an in-flight, Boeing 787 battery incident earlier today in Japan, the FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations. Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe.

Until today, officials representing Boeing and the FAA continued to insist that the Dreamliner is fundamentally safe, and that the issues are normal "teething" glitches that afflict any new aircraft in its initial in-service period.

Such reassurances, however, rang increasingly hollow as the plane's problems continued to surface with no sign of either diagnoses or solutions.

The grounding should focus the attention of Boeing and its Dreamliner customers on getting to the bottom of these ongoing problems and fixing them, before the PR nightmare becomes a tragedy of an entirely different order.

Dreamliner Issues

The ever-growing list of 787-related incidents and responses now includes the following:

  • On Wednesday, Qatar Airways canceled a scheduled flight from London to Doha.
  • Also on Wednesday, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines suspended all 787 flights, partly in response to a battery malfunction that resulted in an emergency landing.
  • On Sunday, a fuel leak was discovered on a Japan Airlines 787 at Tokyo's Narita Airport.
  • A fire broke out on a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston earlier this month.
  • A fire similar to the one in Boston had been reported during the 787's testing phase in 2010.
  • In December, an electrical malfunction forced a United Airlines 787 to make an emergency landing.
  • Later that same month, United reported that the same issue had been discovered on a second Dreamliner.
  • Also in December, Qatar Airlines grounded one of its 787s because of electrical issues.
  • The FAA has ordered inspections of potential fuel-line leaks on all 787s.
  • Last week, the FAA announced that it would subject the 787 Dreamliner to an unusual post-launch "review."

About the 787 Dreamliner

The Dreamliner is Boeing's most advanced airliner, featuring such cutting-edge technology as lithium-ion batteries and a composite-plastic body.

The first 787 was received by ANA in September 2011, and since then about 35 787s have been delivered to eight airline customers, including United.

As of last month, the company had taken orders for 844 Dreamliners, and Boeing hopes to sell as many as 5,000 during the lifetime of the plane.

Reader Reality Check

Are the 787's problems of concern to you? Would you fly on one anyway?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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