By Chris Cooper, Bloomberg News
TOKYO — ANA Holdings Inc., operator of the world’s biggest fleet of Boeing 787s, scrapped a flight with the Dreamliner Wednesday, the third cancellation for the aircraft in Japan this week after a four-month grounding.
ANA couldn’t use the 787 for the flight from Ube, western Japan, to Tokyo’s Haneda airport as the right engine failed to start, said Megumi Tezuka, a spokeswoman at the company. The airline is looking into the cause and said it was separate from the battery issues that had plagued the Dreamliner earlier.
Japan Airlines Co., the world’s second-largest Dreamliner operator, also canceled a service with the 787 this week after an indicator on a flight bound for Singapore showed problem with the engine anti-icing system. ANA and Japan Air both restarted flights with the plane June 1 after battery malfunctions kept their Dreamliner fleet grounded for more than four months.
“I can’t imagine there’s anything out of the ordinary,” said Peter Harbison, executive chairman at the Sydney-based CAPA Centre for Aviation, an industry consultant. “The positive thing is it’s not a battery system problem. I wouldn’t expect it to affect demand.”
The Japan Transport Safety Board isn’t investigating this week’s 787 problems in the country as there was no accident and doesn’t think they are related to the battery, Masahiro Kudo, an aircraft accident investigator for the agency, told reporters in Tokyo Wednesday.
“We are aware of issues as they arise and work with our airline customers to resolve them as quickly as possible,” Yvonne Leach, a Boeing spokeswoman, said in an email. “Cancellations aren’t rare occurrences and not limited to the 787.”
Rolls-Royce Holdings, the maker of ANA’s 787 engines, is also aware of the problem and is working with the airline to support them and understand the problem, Erin Atan, a Singapore- based spokeswoman said by e-mail.
ANA cancels about eight to nine flights a day, out of 812 domestic flights, for reasons ranging from weather delays to maintenance, Tezuka said. ANA had a reliability of 98.9 percent on domestic flights in April, she said.
On June 10, ANA scrapped a 787 flight to Tokyo from Fukuoka after a sensor next to an engine indicated a possible problem.
Both carriers, which have a total of 27 Dreamliners, are flying the fuel-efficient aircraft to cities such as Boston and San Jose, California, that wouldn’t be profitable with larger planes. The four-month suspension of 787 services cut sales this year, ANA and JAL said, after melting batteries on two jets spurred regulators to park all the planes in January.
Japan has been the biggest market so far for Boeing’s plane, the first jetliner made chiefly of composite plastic materials. That meant ANA and JAL had the broadest disruptions while the aircraft were grounded and Boeing was rushing to find a fix for the lithium-ion batteries.
Among the eight Dreamliner operators whose fleets were grounded by the battery problems, Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise began flying again in April while Qatar Airways Ltd., Air India Ltd. and United Continental Holdings Inc. resumed service last month.
One of ANA’s 787s made an emergency landing on Jan. 16 after smoke from a lithium-ion battery was detected. Nine days earlier, a battery had caught fire on a JAL 787 in Boston. No one was injured in either incident.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered 787s in domestic service grounded, the first such action for an entire model since 1979, and regulators around the world followed suit. The Dreamliner is the only large commercial jet equipped with lithium-ion batteries as part of its power system.
The groundings may have reduced ANA sales by about 16 billion yen ($166 million), according to figures from the company. JAL’s probably lost 6.5 billion yen in sales due to the groundings, it has said.
Boeing redesigned the battery to include more protection around individual cells to contain any overheating, added a steel case to prevent fire and a tube that would vent any fumes outside the fuselage. Carriers began 787 test flights after the FAA approved the battery upgrades.