Jet-maker Boeing was facing an escalating crisis today as the two airlines that own nearly half its new flagship Dreamliner planes grounded their entire fleets of 787s.
Now aviation experts are warning that the US Federal Aviation Administration could order all 50 of the Dreamliners in service to be grounded after the latest — and most serious — in a string of safety problems. An All Nippon Airways Dreamliner was forced to make an emergency landing in western Japan this morning after instruments on board indicated a battery error.
This comes after four separate malfunctions on board All Nippon and Japan Airlines 787s last week alone, involving brake failure, battery problems, fuel leaks and an on-board fire. Both airlines — the two biggest single operators of the aircraft — have grounded all of their 24 Dreamliner jets. Major safety fears now surround the world’s first mainly carbon-composite jet, which had inspired hopes it would revolutionise air travel, with its lighter weight promising to lower airlines’ fuel bills.
Boeing is counting heavily on the success of the Dreamliner, which was delivered to its first customer in September 2011 — three years late, after production delays. Boeing has said it would at least break even on the cost of building the 1,100 new 787s it expects to deliver over the next decade.
But if investigations being carried out by the FAA and Japanese safety teams find faults, Boeing could also face extra repair costs. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have large Dreamliner orders. BA has 24 on order, with its first expected in May. A BA spokesman said: “We remain committed to taking delivery of our first 787 this year.”
Virgin Atlantic is to receive 16 Dreamliners from Boeing from summer next year. A spokesman said: “We are working with Boeing to understand all of the technical issues. We have every confidence that Boeing and the relevant authorities will ensure sufficient oversight is maintained.”
However, an aviation analyst warned: “Some are very surprised the FAA hasn’t already grounded the 787. Now here’s another serious incident, it would be reasonable to expect the FAA to change its decision, because if it doesn’t then other airlines will decide to do so independently.
“Boeing will face a major battle to rebuild confidence in the airplane. It will take time.”