In a serious blow to Boeing’s flagship 787 Dreamliner program, two Japanese airlines with the largest fleets of the new airplane on Wednesday temporarily grounded all 24 jets after a battery-malfunction warning and detection of smoke forced the pilot of an All Nippon Airways 787 to make an emergency landing.
Both ANA and Japan Airlines (JAL) had expressed confidence in the plane’s safety just eight days earlier, after a battery fire on a parked 787 in Boston — though that event later prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch a major safety review.
The safety review will now grow more intense. And if the grounding of the planes proves extended, it will be very costly for both the airlines and Boeing.
Japanese television station NHK showed video of the stricken 787 with its emergency slides deployed.
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The plane was carrying 129 passengers and eight crew. Local police reported some passengers suffered minor injuries during the evacuation, according to NHK.
The Dreamliner took off from Yamaguchi in western Japan at 8:10 a.m. local time on a 90-minute flight to Haneda airport in Tokyo. But the pilot diverted to Takamatsu airport, landing there at 8:45 a.m.
ANA said the smoke was in the cockpit and the pilot got a warning signal indicating a battery problem, according to Japanese media.
Yuzuru Ogasawara, chief of the transport ministry’s Takamatsu bureau, told Bloomberg News that the airport control tower “confirmed the smoke.”
However, the local city fire department said there was no fire. An ANA official said the airline canceled all Wednesday flights on its 17 Dreamliners.
JAL also temporarily grounded its fleet of seven Dreamliners at least for the day “to ensure safety,” spokeswoman Carol Anderson said in an email.
Last week, a battery fire broke out on an empty JAL 787 that had just landed at Logan International Airport in Boston after a 12-hour flight from Tokyo.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of that fire.
The Dreamliner has two high-capacity lithium ion batteries. The one that burned on the JAL plane at Logan was located in an electronics bay at the rear of the airplane.
If smoke appeared in the cockpit of the ANA jet from a battery fire, it would likely be the other lithium ion battery, located in the forward electronics bay, just behind and below the cockpit.
The Logan fire followed a series of lesser electrical problems, including one that diverted a United flight out of Houston in December. Those faults were traced to flawed circuit boards in electrical power-distribution panels.
Due to the repeated incidents and the seriousness of a fire on an airplane, the FAA announced last Friday a comprehensive review of the safety of the 787’s electrical systems. Late Tuesday the FAA said the newest incident will be included in that review.
A team of technical experts based in Seattle will examine the design of the jet and quality control during production, both at Boeing and its suppliers around the world.
Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said only that ”we are aware of the event and working with our customer.”
ANA, which ordered 66 Dreamliners in total, is the launch customer for the new jet and was the first to take delivery, in September 2011.
Boeing has been focused on ramping up Dreamliner production, with plans to double production to 10 jets a month by year end.
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org