India grounds Boeing Dreamliners after FAA decision

STORY: India grounded all six of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft operated by state-owned carrier Air India on Thursday (January 17) after the same decision was made by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

India joined Japan, Europe and the United States in grounding Boeing Co’s 787, a day after a second incident involving battery failure caused one of the Dreamliner passenger jets to make an emergency landing.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Wednesday it would temporarily ground Boeing’s newest commercial airliner and insisted airlines would have to demonstrate the lithium ion batteries were safe before they could resume flying. It gave no details on when that might happen.

Following on the footsteps of the FAA, India’s Aviation Minister, Ajit Singh directed the country’s aviation watchdog the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to ground all the Dreamliners.

“What FAA has said is they have issued an advisory worldwide to ground all 787’s until they can prove batteries are safe. So basically what they are saying is that they will check all the systems on all planes because of this battery and I have directed the DGCA to ground all the Dreamliners here also,” Singh told reporters in New Delhi.

The aviation minister also said that Boeing would need to get clearance from the FAA and the DGCA before hitting the runway again.

“Boeing has to come up with a plan for FAA to test all their electrical systems and batteries and so when that plan comes up we will also test them. But basically first FAA has to approve that they are safe to fly,” Singh added.

It is the first such action against a U.S.-made passenger plane since the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 was grounded in 1979 after a deadly crash in Chicago, analysts said.

An aviation expert in India, Harshvardhan, said that the decision to ground the 787 was a precautionary one.

“I think it’s more of a precautionary step and Boeing has to address these issues so India is only following what others have done because Air India has not faced any of these issues. So, I would rather believe that it’s more of an abundant precautionary step, which FAA and DGCA India have taken and Boeing has to address these issues,” said Harshvardhan.

The 787, which has a list price of $207 million, represents a leap in the way planes are designed and built, but the project has been plagued by cost overruns and years of delays. Some have suggested Boeing’s rush to get planes built after those delays resulted in the recent problems, a charge the company denies.

The use of new battery technology is among the cost-saving features of the 787, which Boeing says burns 20 percent less fuel than rival jetliners using older technology.

Former director of the DGCA, Kanu Gohain said that grounding was the first step to tackle any repeated safety problems in an airline.

“This is the usual practice. Whenever aeroplanes are having repeated technical problems, impinging into safety, the reasons for such technical problems have to be first analysed, reviewed and degree of safety has to be introduced and then only normal operations can be resumed,” said Gohain in Guwahati city of northeastern Assam state.

In Asia, only the Japanese and Air India have the Dreamliner in service, but other airlines are among those globally to have ordered around 850 of the new aircraft. Chile-based LAN also grounded its three 787s in compliance with the FAA warning.

Barring a prolonged grounding or a severe and uncontained crisis, aircraft industry sources say there is no immediate threat of plane cancellations.

The Dreamliner’s problems could sharpen competition between Boeing and its European rival Airbus, which itself experienced a dip in sales for its A380 superjumbo following problems with wing cracks a year ago. The A380 crisis has since eased and most airlines report the aircraft are flying full.