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Airlines face flight woes with 787 grounding

(Shanghai Daily)

08:15, January 18, 2013

AIRLINES scrambled yesterday to rearrange flights as Europe, Japan and India joined the United States in grounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger jets while battery-related problems are investigated.

The lightweight, mainly carbon-composite plane has been plagued by recent mishaps - including an emergency landing of an All Nippon Airways domestic flight on Wednesday after warning lights indicated a battery problem - raising concerns over its use of lithium-ion batteries.

The US Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday temporarily grounded Boeing's newest commercial plane, saying carriers would have to show the batteries were safe before the planes could resume flying. It gave no details on when that might happen. Other regulators followed suit yesterday.

It is the first such action against a US-made passenger plane since the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 had its airworthiness certificate suspended following a deadly crash in Chicago in 1979, analysts said.

Boeing has sold around 850 of the new planes, with 50 delivered to date. Around half of those have been in operation in Japan, but airlines in India, South America, Poland, Qatar and Ethiopia, as well as United Airlines in the US, are also flying the aircraft, which has a list price of US$207 million.

With most of that Dreamliner fleet now effectively out of action as engineers and regulators make urgent checks - primarily to the plane's batteries and complex electronics systems - airlines are wrestling with gaps in their scheduling.

Japan Airlines Co said the 787 grounding would lead to three flight cancellations, affecting more than 500 passengers. A spokesman for Air India said no flights had been cancelled as the airline was using other planes. "We're working out a plan to handle the situation, and will hopefully know by this evening how we should go about it," G. Prasada Rao said.

Motohisa Tachikawa, spokesman for JTB, a Tokyo-based travel services firm, said there had not yet been any direct impact on flight bookings. "I'm sure JAL and ANA are furiously trying to assign replacement planes for those that are grounded. How and when they will make that clear will impact our situation," he said.

Keeping the 787s on the ground could cost ANA alone over US$1.1 million a day, Mizuho Securities calculated, noting the Dreamliner was key to the airline's growth strategy.

Regulators in Japan and India said it was unclear when the Dreamliner could be flying. A spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency said the region would follow the FAA's grounding order. Poland's LOT Airlines is the sole European airline operating the 787.

Boeing said in a statement it was confident the 787 was safe.

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