SEATTLE - The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded all Boeing 787s pending a safety check of the plane's lithium ion batteries after a Dreamliner was forced to make an emergency landing in Japan.
The agency said it will work with Boeing and U.S. air carriers to develop a plan allowing 787s to "resume operations as quickly and safely as possible."
United Airlines is the only U.S. carrier with 787s. It has six.
Only days ago, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared the plane safe. But after an emergency landing in Japan early Wednesday, two Japanese airlines voluntarily grounded their 787s.
A safety official in Japan said the battery on the ANA flight in the emergency landing was "swollen" from overheating, which caused it to leak chemicals and smoke. Investigators found burn marks around the battery, though it's not believed to have actually caught fire.
That battery, which is just under the cockpit, is identical to another in the rear of the plane that catch fire last week on an empty Japan Airlines 787 in Boston.
Overnight, the battery's Japanese manufacturer, GS Yuasa, made its first statement, saying it was helping with the investigation, but that it's not clear whether the cause of the problem is with the battery, the power source or the electronics system.
Smoking or burning lithium ion batteries have been blamed for fires in cell phones, electric cars and mp3 players.
KIRO 7 talked to business travel reporter Chris McGinnis, who flew on an ANA 787 to Tokyo two days before the emergency landing.
"I think that grounding the aircraft, while there are questions, was the right call. As inconvenient as it may be for a lot of people," said McGinnis.
Meanwhile, the cost of the worldwide grounding could be huge. One expert told CNBC that based on the size of their fleet, the grounding of the jets could be costing ANA $20-30 million a day.
The FAA issued this statement:
As a result of an in-flight, Boeing 787 battery incident earlier today in Japan, the FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations. Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe and in compliance.
The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 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 AD is prompted by this second incident involving a lithium ion battery. 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.
Last Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems with the possibility of further action pending new data and information. 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.
United Airlines is currently the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service. When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, it also alerts the international aviation community to the action so other civil aviation authorities can take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.
Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney issued the following statement:
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.