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Top Airlines in Japan Grounding Boeing 787s

Japan’s two largest airlines said Wednesday they would ground their fleets of Boeing’s new 787 aircraft, the Dreamliner, after one operated by All Nippon Airways made an emergency landing in western Japan.

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.


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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