Japan's two leading airlines ground their Boeing 787s fleets after one of the dreamliner passenger jets made an emergency landing, in the latest and most serious of safety scares.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) said instruments on board a domestic flight indicated a battery error, triggering emergency warnings to the pilots. It said the battery in the forward cargo hold was the same lithium-ion type as one involved in a fire on another dreamliner at a US airport last week.
The carrier grounded all 17 of its 787s, and Japan Airlines Co suspended its 787 flights scheduled for Wednesday. The two carriers operate around half of the 50 dreamliners delivered by Boeing to date.
ANA said its planes could be back in the air as soon as Thursday once checks were completed.
Before we made the emergency landing there was an announcement and the stewardess' voice was shaking, so I thought this was serious. Passenger
Wednesday's incident, described by a transport ministry official as "highly serious" - language used in international safety circles as indicating there could have been an accident - is the latest in a line of mishaps. Fuel leaks, a battery fire, wiring problem, brake computer glitch and cracked cockpit window have all hit the world's first mainly carbon-composite airliner in recent days.
"I think you're nearing the tipping point where they need to regard this as a serious crisis," said Richard Aboulafia, a senior analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. "This is going to change people's perception of the aircraft if they don't act quickly."
New plane design
The 787, which has a list price of $207m, represents a leap in the way planes are designed and built, but the project has been plagued by cost overruns and years of delays.
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 jets using older technology.
But some have suggested Boeing's rush to get planes built after those delays resulted in the recent problems, a charge the company strenuously denies.
Both the US federal aviation administration (FAA) and the national transportation safety board (NTSB) said they were monitoring the latest incident as part of a comprehensive review of the dreamliner announced late last week.
Passengers leaving the ANA flight told local TV there was an odour like burning plastic on the plane as soon as it took off. "There was a bad smell as soon as we started and before we made the emergency landing there was an announcement and the stewardess' voice was shaking, so I thought this was serious," one passenger told TBS TV.
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More nightmares for Boeing
Dreamliner: timeline of incidents
4 December 2012
A United Airlines 787 with 184 people aboard makes an emergency landing in New Orleans after reported electrical problems.
US regulators say there is a manufacturing fault in 787 fuel lines and advises operators to make extra inspections to guard against engine failures.
Qatar Airways grounds one of its three 787s after finding the same electrical problem that affected the 4 December United flight.
United confirms finding an electrical problem in a second plane in its 787 fleet.
7 January 2013
Electrical fire breaks out on a Japan Airlines 787 after a battery explodes, letting smoke into the cabin shortly after passengers from Tokyo disembark at Boston's Logan International Airport.
A fuel leak forces another Japan Airlines 787 to return to its gate only minutes before it is due to take off for Tokyo from Boston. Forty gallons of fuel are reported to have spewed across the Tarmac.
All Nippon Airways cancels a domestic 787 flight from Yamaguchi prefecture to Tokyo following a glitch in the computer systems that control the jet's brakes.
All Nippon Airways reports new problems with Dreamliner planes in its domestic fleet. In one instance, a small amount of oil is discovered leaking from a jet. In another case, a flight is cancelled after detection of a crack in the cockpit windshield.
All Nippon grounds its fleet of 17 Dreamliners when its flight NH 692 from Yamaguchi Ube is forced to land shortly after take-off. Japan Airlines follows suit, saying it would ground its fleet of seven 787s until further notice.