Air India waiting for US safety report on Boeing's Dreamliner

Air India, one of the first customers for the Dreamliner, is waiting for a US safety report on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner after a spate of incidents including a lithium-ion battery fire on a Japan Airlines Dreamliner that have prompted questions about the jet's safety.

Uttara Choudhury January 16, 2013 10:33:14 IST
Air India waiting for US safety report on Boeing's Dreamliner

New York: Air India, one of the first customers for the Dreamliner, is waiting for a US safety report on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner after a spate of incidents including a lithium-ion battery fire on a Japan Airlines Dreamliner that have prompted questions about the mould-breaking passenger jet's safety.

In India, where Air India has taken delivery of six Dreamliner jets and has more on order, a senior official at the civil aviation ministry said there was concern at the recent spate of Dreamliner glitches. The nervousness is understandable given that Boeing's Dreamliner is the cornerstone of Air India's fleet renewal strategy.

Meanwhile, the Indian aviation regulator DGCA has also said that currently India is not facing any problems with its Dreamliners and the earlier issues have been sorted.

Air India already operates flights to Dubai, Paris and Frankfurt with Dreamliner jets, and has recently taken delivery of the sixth of 27 Dreamliner planes ordered in January 2006. Another six planes will join Air India's fleet by December. The national carrier plans to induct the remaining 15 Dreamliner jets through 2016

Given the publicity nightmare for Boeing and its new-age plane, Boeing has already stationed a team of experts in Delhi to troubleshoot any technical problems on the Dreamliner.

"The team is available to us at any time if the plane faces any technical problem," said a senior Air India official.

Air India waiting for US safety report on Boeings Dreamliner

Boeing's 787Dreamliner is at the cornerstone of Air India's plane renewal strategy. Image courtesy: Air India.

"We have already carried out inspections and checks on our aircraft on our own, including on the lithium-ion batteries. We are waiting for any advice from the Federal Aviation Administration or Boeing," the official added.

The US government ordered a comprehensive review of the Dreamliner after a series of glitches occurred last week. The review will be carried out by the Federal Aviation Administration, and will focus on the Dreamliner's electrical power system. Last Monday, at Boston's Logan airport, a fire broke out on a Japan Airlines Dreamliner shortly after passengers left the aircraft.

The fire was focused on a lithium-ion battery, used to start the aircraft's auxiliary power unit, which reportedly exploded. Boeing has insisted its first-ever use of a lithium-ion battery on one of its passenger jets is safe, although they have been known to catch fire, in laptops and electric cars.

Cracks were also spotted in the cockpit window of a Dreamliner flown by Nippon Airways from Tokyo to Matsuyama airport in Japan. The jet landed safely, but was grounded for repairs. A JAL Dreamliner also spilled 40 gallons of fuel onto the taxiway at the airport after a problem that caused a valve to open.

These problems have tested the confidence in the world's first carbon-composite plane, which has a list price of $207 million. At least 50 airlines, including Air India, bought into the Dreamliner, believing the fuel-efficient jet would offer a competitive edge.

The Dreamliner made mostly of lightweight carbon composites instead of metal, cuts down airline costs for fuel, while allowing carriers to fly non-stop between distant destinations. Given that fuel is now the biggest single item in an airline's operating cost, experts say the Dreamliner gives a 25 percent saving per seat which is a big change in the economics of the aircraft.

Dreamliner buyers like Air India will be hoping these are normal teething issues as a new plane enters service under close scrutiny. Air India is replacing its older, fuel-guzzling planes with the Dreamliner as part of its efforts to cut costs and make a turnaround after five consecutive years of losses.

Boeing's top Dreamliner engineer, Mike Sinnett, defended the 787 this week, saying the plane's problem rates were no higher than with Boeing's successful 777 jet.

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