Airlines have grounded nearly all of Boeing’s flagship 787 Dreamliner planes amid continuing safety concerns.
The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) issued a directive to temporarily take the planes out of service while safety checks were carried out.
European regulators have also called for the planes to be grounded.
Boeing said the planes were safe and that it stood by the integrity of the Dreamliner, which has been in service since October 2011.
Grounding aircraft on this scale over safety concerns is rare. The last time the FAA ordered a general grounding of an aircraft model was in 1979, when McDonald Douglas DC-10s were grounded following a fatal crash.
A string of issues in recent weeks have raised questions about the 787.
Dreamliners have suffered incidents including fuel leaks, a cracked cockpit window, brake problems and an electrical fire. However, it is the battery problems that have caused the most concern.
On Wednesday, an All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight made an emergency landing because of a battery malfunction. That caused it to ground all 17 of its Dreamliners and Japan Airways followed suit.
The FAA said that airlines must demonstrate battery safety before flights can resume.
The authority added that it had alerted the international aviation community of its airworthiness directive, so that other authorities could take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their countries.
The European Aviation Safety Agency endorsed the directive early on Thursday.
So far, all but one of the airlines currently flying Boeing 787s have grounded the planes.
All Nippon Airways and Japan Airways have grounded their combined fleet of 21 787s
United Airlines, the only US airline currently operating Dreamliners, said it would immediately comply with the FAA’s directive and would begin re-accommodating customers on alternative aircraft
Chile’s LAN announced it would suspend its three Dreamliners from service in co-ordination with the Chilean Aeronautical Authority
Indian aviation regulators ordered Air India to stop operating its 787s
Poland’s Lot Airlines, the only European airline currently flying 787s, was due to launch its 787 transatlantic service this week, but cancelled a return flight from Chicago to Warsaw on Wednesday
Qatar Airways, which currently operates five Dreamliners, said it had grounded the planes and was “actively working with Boeing and the regulators to restore full customer confidence in the 787”.
Executives at the remaining 787 operator, Ethiopian Airlines, were in a meeting about the FAA directive on Thursday morning, but have yet to announce the grounding of planes.
‘Every necessary step’
Leithen Francis, from Aviation Week, said airlines had little choice but to take the aircraft out of service temporarily.
“When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, civil aviation and airlines around the world have to follow [it], particularly in regards to the 787, because it is a US-designed and developed aircraft,” he told the BBC.
Boeing said it supported the FAA but added it was confident the 787 was safe.
Chief executive Jim McNerney said: “We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the travelling 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.”
Mr Francis said the safety concerns could have an effect on airlines currently considering ordering 787s, causing them to choose rival Airbus’ A330 instead, which is a comparable aircraft and a proven product.
Companies on the order books include UK holiday firm Thompson, which was due to take delivery of Dreamliners next month, followed by British Airways and Virgin.
The FAA said it would work with the manufacturer and carriers on an action plan to allow the US 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.
“The in-flight Japanese battery incident followed an earlier 787 battery incident that occurred on the ground in Boston on January 7, 2013,” the regulator said.
“The AD (airworthiness directive) is prompted by this second incident involving a lithium ion battery.”
It said the battery failures resulted in the release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke, and the cause of the failures was 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 FAA said.
Boeing is investing heavily in the 787 Dreamliner, and needs to sell 1,100 over the next decade to break even. Together with European rival Airbus it dominates the global airliner market.
Source: The Daily Star