Ethiopian Airlines grounds Boeing 787s amid safety fears

By IndepthAfrica
In East Africa
Jan 19th, 2013
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Ethiopian Airlines said on Friday that it had grounded its Boeing 787 Dreamliners after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered a safety review of the aircraft.

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Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. (Rendering by Boeing)

The FAA issued a directive to airliners not to fly the US-registered aircraft until “a potential battery fire risk in the 787” is investigated.

The warning came after a smoke alert forced a Japanese aircraft carrying 129 passengers to make an emergency landing on Wednesday.

This latest incident is the most serious involving the airliner, which has been plagued by a growing number of mechanical problems since last July.

“Following the directive of the FAA, Ethiopian [Airlines] has decided to temporarily pull its 787 Dreamliners out of service for precautionary inspection as of Thursday 17 January,” Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune.

The flag carrier, however, said its Dreamliners had been “performing well” and the temporary grounding was a precautionary measure only.

“We have not encountered the type of problems such as those experienced by the other operators, however, as an extra precautionary safety measure and in line with its commitment of putting safety above all else, Ethiopian [Airlines] has decided to pull out its four Dreamliners from operation,” the statement said.

Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s fastest growing airline and the first African airline to operate Dreamliner services.

In addition to the four Dreamliners currently in service, the airline has six more on order from Boeing which are expected to be delivered by the end of 2014.

Officials from Ethiopian Airlines said they are working closely with Boeing to comply with an FAA-approved special inspection procedure on the battery system and perform the maintenance as per the directive.

“The airline aims to return the Dreamliners to service as soon as possible after full compliance with the new procedure,” the airline said in a statement.

Aviation authorities have ordered the grounding of some 50 Dreamliners currently in operation across the globe until the battery-related problems are resolved.

JOINT US-JAPAN PROBE

According to reports, a team of US safety investigators arrived in Japan on Friday to investigate the root cause of failures in the aircraft.

A four-member team from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent US investigative body, is now holding meetings with their Japanese counterparts to discuss ways of resolving the problem. The batteries are fabricated by a Japanese firm.

An initial assessment carried out by the joint investigative team indicated the battery had overheated as a result of the excessive flow of electricity, causing smoke to enter the compartment.

Boeing Dreamliner flight systems are highly dependent on electronics rather than hydraulics and there are now questions about whether the problems lie solely with the lithium batteries or in the whole electrical system of the plane.

The sophisticated 787 Dreamliner, which took off on its maiden flight in October 2011, was hailed at the time as the future of commercial air travel.

However, since its launch, the aircraft has been beset by a number of embarrassing safety glitches and mechanical issues, which began last year.

In a separate incident earlier this month, a battery-related problem caused a fire aboard an empty Boeing 787 in Boston, US.

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