December 10, 2019

All Nippon Airways Takes Dreamliner With Improved Battery on Test Flight

A 787 carrying top executives from Boeing and All Nippon took off from Haneda Airport on Tokyo’s waterfront Sunday morning, without incident. In the past week, regulators in the United States, Europe and Japan have all signed off on the battery fixes.

Smaller airlines are already moving ahead in reintroducing the jet to their fleets, including Ethiopian Airlines, which used a 787 Saturday on a two-hour commercial flight from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya.

But the resumption of 787 flights at All Nippon and Japan Airlines, which together own half the 50 Dreamliner jets Boeing has so far delivered, will prove the real test of whether the modified batteries will eliminate further mishaps, as well as passenger response. Both airlines have said they hope to resume commercial flights in June.

Japanese and American regulators have been investigating the lithium-ion batteries aboard the 787 after a fire on Jan. 7 in a Japan Airlines 787 parked at a gate at Boston’s Logan Airport. A second incident later that month, involving a similar battery on an All Nippon Airways plane on a Japanese domestic flight, triggered an emergency landing and led to the worldwide grounding of the planes.

Boeing engineers say their fixes to the batteries — which include better insulation between the eight cells in the battery, gentler charging to minimize stress and a new titanium venting system — eliminate all potential causes of battery fire. But the engineers also acknowledged that they may never know what caused the batteries to overheat on the Japan Airlines and All Nippon aircraft because the battery cells were so damaged.

Besides Boeing’s repairs, Japan’s Transport Ministry has requested that All Nippon and Japan Airlines also install improved battery monitoring systems on its planes, and put its 787 cockpit crews through additional flight training. Once the planes are back in service, the airlines will also take a sample of batteries every few months for tests to make sure the improvements are working.

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Japan Airlines Says 787 Grounding Will Cost It $7.5 Million

In announcing the forecast loss of about $7.5 million, the Japanese carrier joined other Dreamliner operators, like All Nippon Airways and United Airlines, in raising possible compensation demands. That adds to Boeing’s woes as it struggles to find out why a battery aboard a parked 787 burst into flames and another emitted smoke while a plane was in the air last month.

After those incidents, regulators around the world grounded the 50 Dreamliners that were in service. U.S. and Japanese officials investigating the two cases have not determined exactly what caused the lithium-ion batteries, made by a Japanese company, to overheat.

Japan Airlines, which operates seven 787s and has placed orders for 38 more, is pushing to get back on track after its emergence from bankruptcy last year and the relisting of its shares, which raised ¥663 billion.

In earnings announced Monday, the airline said net profit had fallen 3.7 percent to ¥140.6 billion in the first three quarters, through December, of its financial year. Sales rose 3.6 percent to ¥942 billion, Japan Airlines said, but were offset by a nearly 5 percent increase in operating costs as fuel prices climbed.

Japan Airlines also said that it would postpone the introduction of service between Helsinki and Narita International Airport near Tokyo, originally scheduled to start Feb. 25. The airline cited “necessary adjustments to JAL’s international routes utilizing the Boeing 787 aircraft.”

Still, it raised its full-year profit forecast through March by 16 percent to ¥163 billion, citing strong demand in Europe, the United States and Southeast Asia.

Speaking in Tokyo, Yoshiharu Ueki, president of Japan Airlines, said his company was more focused on doing all it could do to help get the 787s safely back in the air. He added, however, that the airline would begin compensation negotiations “once the situation had settled down.”

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All Nippon Says Grounding of 787s Has Cost About $15 Million

With a fleet of 17 Dreamliners, delivered in late 2011 ahead of any other airline, All Nippon is the world’s largest operator of Boeing’s new jet. But that fleet remains grounded as United States and Japanese investigators try to determine why a battery burst into flames and another spewed smoke last month on 787s operated by All Nippon and Japan Airlines.

All Nippon has scrambled to use replacement aircraft to operate its routes. But the airline has been forced to cancel about 450 domestic and international flights, affecting almost 60,000 customers.

The airline has said it expects disruptions to continue and is unsure when they will end.

The airline said on Thursday that the 787 grounding had caused an estimated $15.4 million in lost revenue so far, a disappointing reversal after the airline trumpeted the big savings brought about by the fuel-efficient jets. For now, All Nippon kept its profit forecast for the year through March unchanged at about $44 million, though it remains unclear how big an effect the Dreamliner woes will have on the airline’s future earnings and strategy.

Seven operators grounded their 787 fleets on Jan. 16 after regulators around the world followed those in the United States and Japan in ordering the suspension of all flights until the battery problems could be resolved. Earlier that day, a 787 operated by All Nippon made an emergency landing in western Japan after pilots noticed a battery error signal and a strange smell in the cabin.

Just 10 days earlier, a similar battery burst into flames aboard a parked 787 operated by Japan Airlines at Boston’s Logan Airport. The lithium-ion batteries have been recovered from both planes and are now being scrutinized by American and Japanese investigators.

All Nippon has since said that it replaced batteries and chargers in its Dreamliners 10 times before the emergency landing, and Japan Airlines said it had done so several times.

United States investigators are now asking for more data on the devices’ past performance.

All Nippon has not asked Boeing for compensation linked to the grounded 787s but will discuss the issue once the total financial effect is more clear, said the executive vice president, Kiyoshi Tonomoto, according to Reuters.

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Regulators Around the Globe Ground Boeing 787s

The directives in Europe, India and Japan followed an order Wednesday by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration grounding the planes operated by U.S. carriers.

The decisions are a result of incidents involving a plane that was parked in Boston and one in Japan that had to make an emergency landing Wednesday morning after an alarm warning of smoke in the cockpit.

In Japan on Thursday, the transportation ministry issued a formal order to ground all 787s indefinitely, until concerns over the aircraft’s battery systems are resolved. All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines had already voluntarily grounded their 787s on Wednesday, leading to more than two dozen canceled flights.

European safety regulators also said they would ground Dreamliners, affecting LOT of Poland, the only carrier that operates the jets in that region. In India, the aviation regulator grounded all six of the 787s operated by the state-owned carrier Air India.

LAN Airlines of Chile said it was following suit, acting in coordination with the Chilean Aeronautical Authority.

And on Thursday, Qatar Airways said it would follow the F.A.A.’s decision and ground its five 787s, effective immediately.

The F.A.A.’s emergency directive, issued Wednesday night, initially applies to United Airlines, the only American carrier using the new plane so far, with six 787s.

Boeing, based in Chicago, has a lot riding on the 787, and its stock dropped nearly 3.4 percent Wednesday to $74.34. The company has outlined ambitious plans to double its production rate to 10 planes a month by the end of 2013. It is also starting to build a stretch version and considering an even larger one after that.

“We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity,” Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chief executive, said in a statement.

The grounding — an unusual action for a new plane — focuses on one of the more risky design choices made by Boeing, namely to make extensive use of lithium-ion batteries aboard its airplanes for the first time.

Until now, much of the attention on the 787 was focused on its lighter composite materials and more efficient engines, meant to usher in a new era of more fuel-efficient travel, particularly over long distances. The batteries are part of an electrical system that replaces many mechanical and hydraulic ones that are common in previous jets.

The 787’s problems could jeopardize one of its major features, its ability to fly long distances at a lower cost. The plane is certified to fly 180 minutes from an airport. The U.S. government is unlikely to extend that to 330 minutes, as Boeing has promised, until all problems with the plane have been resolved.

For Boeing, “it’s crucial to get it right,” said Richard L. Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. “They’ve got a brief and closing window in which they can convince the public and their flying customers that this is not a problem child.”

In Japan on Thursday, government investigators examined the 787 that made the emergency landing. Footage on the public broadcaster, NHK, showed officials removing a charred and swollen lithium-ion battery pack from the front of the plane.

Corrosive liquid appeared to have leaked out of the batteries, leaving streaks on their blue casing, said Hideo Kosugi, a safety official who is head of the inquiry. Investigators also found black discolorations outside exhaust vents on the plane, which suggested that there had been smoke inside the aircraft at one point.

“The batteries have retained their basic shape, but are black all over,” Mr. Kosugi said. Something caused the battery to overheat and spew liquid, he added, “but we still do not know what is the cause.”

The 787 uses two identical lithium-ion batteries, each about one and a half to two times the size of a typical car battery. One battery, in the rear electrical equipment bay near the wings, is used to start the auxiliary power unit, a small engine in the tail that is used most often to provide power for the plane while it is on the ground. The other battery, called the main battery, starts the pilot’s computer displays and serves as a backup for flight systems.

The maker of the 787’s batteries, GS Yuasa of Japan, has declined to comment on the problems.

Boeing has defended the novel use of the batteries and said it had put in place a series of systems meant to prevent overcharging and overheating.

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Boeing 787s Are Grounded by Japanese Airlines

The 137 passengers and crew used emergency slides to exit the aircraft after possible battery trouble and smoke forced the ANA flight to Tokyo from Ube in western Japan to land at Takamatsu airport in southern Japan instead, according to the public broadcaster, NHK. One elderly passenger suffered a slight hip injury during the evacuation, NHK said.

The emergency landing comes after a string of problems in the last month with the aircraft, including a battery fire, fuel leaks, and a cracked cockpit window.

All Nippon said after Wednesday’s incident that it was grounding all 17 of its Dreamliners for inspections. Japan Airlines said it would also temporarily ground the five Boeing 787s it still operates; two others are already undergoing safety checks.

Akihiro Ota, Japan’s transportation minister, said the emergency landing raised concerns over the Dreamliner’s safety, and that he would dispatch safety officials to investigate. “I see this as a serious incident which could have led to a serious accident,” Mr. Ota told reporters in Tokyo.

All Nippon’s vice president, Osamu Shinobe, told a reporters at a news conference at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, “I apologize for the grave concern and trouble we have caused our passengers, their families and others.” He said the airline was still investigating.

Federal authorities in the United States have also voiced concern about problems the new aircraft has faced but still endorsed it as a safe airplane.

The Federal Aviation Administration last week ordered a comprehensive review of the 787’s manufacturing and design, with a special focus on the plane’s electrical systems. But in a news conference last Thursday, the Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, made no mention of a possible grounding of 787s.

Still, the review is unusual and comes 15 months after the 787 entered service after a lengthy certification process by the F.A.A. It comes during a formal investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board into what caused a battery fire in a Japan Airlines plane that had flown to Boston from Tokyo last week.

Late Tuesday in Tokyo, the N.T.S.B. said it was “currently in the process of gathering information about the B-787 emergency landing in Japan earlier today.”

Eight airlines now fly the 787: All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines in Japan currently own 24 of the 50 delivered by Boeing since November 2011. The other operators are Air India, Ethiopian Airlines, Chile’s LAN Airlines, Poland’s LOT, Qatar Airways and United Airlines.

Boeing has sought to ease concerns about the plane’s design and reliability, and insisted it was no more trouble-prone than other new commercial airplane programs. The 787 relies more on electrical systems than previous generations of airplanes. Electrical systems, not mechanical ones, operate hydraulic pumps, de-ice the wings, pressurize the cabin and handle other tasks. The plane also has electric brakes instead of hydraulic ones.

While problems are common with early models — including with the first Airbus A380, the Boeing 777 or even the first 747s — analysts say the issue could become a growing embarrassment for Boeing if travelers or airlines begin to lose confidence in the plane.

So far, safety experts said that the problems with the 787 pointed more to teething problems than structural faults. But the problem is more than just one of reputation for Boeing: the plane maker has said it expects to sell 5,000 787s in the next 20 years, but analysts believe it will be years before it breaks even because of delays.

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