FAA Grounds Boeing 787s, Boeing Defends Plane

The agency's emergency airworthiness directive follows some incidents on Japanese airlines and requires operators to cease operations temporarily.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency airworthiness directive Jan. 16 ordering operators using Boeing 787 aircraft to cease using them temporarily. The directive, number 2013-02-51, is aimed at a potential battery fire risk in the new plane following an incident on a Japanese flight, the agency announced. The directive was signed by Ali Bahrami, manager, Transport Airplane Directorate, of FAA's Aircraft Certification Service. Boeing issued a statement saying safety of passengers and crew is its highest priority, and it stands behind the 787.

The only U.S. carrier currently flying the aircraft is United Airlines, with six in service, according to FAA.

The European Aviation Safety Agency on Jan. 17 adopted the FAA's directive and said it is working closely with the FAA as the primary certification authority and with Boeing. According to EASA, two Boeing 787s are currently in service, operated by LOT Polish Airlines.

FAA said before operators of U.S.-registered Boeing 787 aircraft can resume using them, they must demonstrate to the agency that the batteries are safe. FAA also said it will work with Boeing and airlines "to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible."

The Jan. 15 in-flight Japanese battery incident followed a 787 battery incident in Boston, after that aircraft had landed, on Jan. 7. "The AD is prompted by this second incident involving a lithium ion battery," FAA's announcement said. "The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two Model 787 airplanes. 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."

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending an investigator to Japan to assist in the investigation of the emergency landing there, with the Japan Transport Safety Board serving as the investigation's lead agency. NTSB has designated investigator Lorenda Ward as the U.S. accredited representative to the investigation, and she will be accompanied by representatives from FAA and Boeing, according to the NTSB release.

Last week, FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787's critical systems. "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," according to the agency.

Boeing Chairman, President, and CEO Jim McNerney issued this statement after FAA issued the directive: "The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority. Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of The Boeing Company to assist. We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity. 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. Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers."

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