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Japan’s airlines ground Dreamliner 787s after new in-flight emergency

ANA knows more than any other airline about Boeing’s Dreamliner 787s since it was first to fly them more than a year ago. This morning it grounded them for urgent inspections following a serious inflight emergency over Japan and other airlines are following suit.

Further updated with JAL groundings

Japan’s two major carriers All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines have now grounded their fleets of Boeing 787 Dreamliners following an urgent descent to an emergency landing by an All Nippon ANA 787 making a domestic flight this morning.

Dreamliner operations by other airlines are expected to be grounded as well, given the seriousness of the reports coming out of Japan from both airline and regulatory sources.

The ANA emergency began shortly after one of its 787s left Yamaguchi on its way to Tokyo Haneda  at 8 am local time when according to initial reports smoke was detected in its cockpit.

The ANA flight rapidly descended onto the airstrip at Takamatsu where all passengers and crew abandoned the revolutionary high composite airliner via emergency slides, during which five people are now reported to received ‘slight injuries.’

No cause has been established.

In quick succession first ANA and then Japan Airlines ordered the cessation of 787 services involving approximately 24 of the Dreamliners in total pending urgent inspections and evaluations.

A Japan Airlines 787 caught fire after landing at Boston’s Logan airport on 7 January, one of a number of seemingly unrelated but disturbing incidents with the jet that lead to the US Federal Aviation Authority holding a stage managed event in which its senior officials and Boeing management declared how safe the Dreamliner was while an open ended inquiry into its safety and certification processes was launched.

Since then two more sobering accident investigation updates have been released by the US National Transportation Safety Board, without the spectacle of the FAA compromising itself in the obsequious manner displayed at the announcement of the 787 review.

Public domain unsourced image of grounded 787

In the fast breaking series of reports out of Japan today the initial report of smoke in the cockpit was changed to the appearance of a 787 battery warning light and the detection of an unusual and possibly electrical smell by the pilots.

Both ANA and JAL fly the Dreamliner long distances over water and central Asia on some international flights.

The incident and grounding will undoubtedly feed a fox hunt mentality in some media, resulting in every minor incident in the never trouble free introduction of a new airliner type into service generating headlines and anxiety which may not be deserved or appropriate.

However a fire is a fire is a fire in an airliner.  And a grounding is an indication of serious concern. When something catches fire in an airliner, or gets hot enough enough to smoke, the incident has to be cause for genuine alarm.

This incident occurred over Japan with an abundance of available airports with suitable runways and emergency equipment.

The critical question regarding what appears to be a rising set of seemingly unrelated incidents in 787s is what they might lead to mid way across the Indian Ocean to Perth, or over the middle of Africa, or Siberia, all places where there is either rising 787 activity, or will be in coming weeks.

This makes such incidents at this stage a legitimate but hopefully correctly reported stories. And it also underlines why the regulatory authorities in the US and Japan are engaged in open ended reviews of 787 safety and its certification procedures by which it was passed as safe for commercial service.

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  • 1
    LongTimeObserver
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Unless quickly remedied, passenger avoidance can’t be far behind.

  • 2
    Tremere
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    All the problematic 787 frames seem to have been delivered within the last few months. I think Boeing’s production ramp has backfired there.

  • 3
    Concorde
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Not true Tremere, in fact the 787 at the centre of today’s emergency (ZA102) was delivered a year ago on the 14th Jan 2012.

  • 4
    Tremere
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    @ Concorde – I stand corrected.

  • 5
    comet
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    A fire on a plastic plane is worse than a fire on an aluminium plane.

    Especially one that has so many electrical components and massive amounts of lithium ion encased within, as is the case with the 787. Although reports say that last week’s 787 fire was not quite hot enough to melt the plastic shell of the plane, it is still a terrible situation.

    Such fires occurred during the testing stage of the 787, and everyone was shocked back then. They are still happening, at regular intervals.

    Is anyone going to want to fly that Qatar 787 powderkeg when it crosses that long stretch Indian Ocean between Doha and Perth?

  • 6
    carl.gruber
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    @comet – I know I wouldn’t.

    After the NTSB update on Monday I wondered how long it would be until there was such a problem inflight. I didn’t for the life of me think it would be this soon though!!!

  • 7
    comet
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    It’s a PR disaster.

    The ill-fated ANA Dreamliner involved in the emergency landing has ’787′ painted on its side in huge letters (pictured above). For those who don’t think about what model of plane is involved in an incident, this will make sure they do know it was a 787.

    I wonder how long it will take until airlines scrub off the identifying 787 livery.

  • 8
    Leon Kernan
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s a PR disaster alright. I’ve seen lots of people saying all new planes have issues, very true, but they weren’t getting the sort of publicity this is.

    Worldwide news networks are showing a plane with 787 printed on the side with fire trucks and slides around. I’ll bet Boeing’s PR are slamming their heads against the wall.

  • 9
    StickShaker
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Most news sites are now showing a video taken by one of the evacuating passengers. Smoke can be seen exiting the aircraft at ground level about 25-30 seconds in to the video.
    I think the pilots make the correct decision to immediately land and evacuate the aircraft.

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