Japan airlines ground 787s after smoke in cockpit

Two of Japan’s major airlines temporarily have grounded their Boeing Co. 787s after smoke in one of the planes forced a pilot to make an emergency landing in Japan.

This comes just days after a string of recent incidents involving 787s prompted U.S. aviation authorities to launch a major review of Boeing’s Dreamliner.

All Nippon Airways pilots were alerted to a battery error by a 787 cockpit warning during a flight early Wednesday within Japan. A strange, smoke-like odor also was reported in the cabin, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing at about 35 minutes into the flight at Takamatsu airport in southwest Japan.

The Japanese transport ministry said the pilots and air- traffic controllers saw smoke. Passengers and crew members were evacuated via the 787’s emergency chutes. Only minor injuries were reported.

Japan’s ministry officials characterized the latest 787 incident as “serious.” It was unclear when the Japanese carriers would return their 787s to flight.

“This is the worst new aircraft development program Boeing has experienced, when you look back at these troubles and all the delays,” said Richard Aboulafia, a consultant with Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia.

On Jan. 7, a Japan Airlines 787 that was parked in Boston caught fire. An ongoing investigation into the fire has traced it back to the 787’s lithium-ion battery. It was not the first electrical glitch on a Boeing Dreamliner since the jet entered commercial service in late 2011.

On Friday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced it will review the 787’s design, manufacture and assembly, paying close attention to the jet’s electrical systems, batteries and power panels. The mostly composite Dreamliner uses more electrical power than do most aluminum aircraft. The FAA said it will incorporate the investigation into the ANA 787 emergency landing into its review.

“We are aware of the event and working with our customer,” Lori Gunter, a Boeing spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “We don’t have any more details to share at this point.”

The ANA 787 had 129 passengers and eight crew members on board when it made the emergency landing at Takamatsu airport. The airport’s runways have been shut down following the incident, said Yorimasa Tojo, a spokesman at the transport ministry’s Takamatsu airport bureau. “The runways will remain closed until we at least move the plane,” he said.

Japan’s transport ministry recently had launched an investigation of fuel leaks on a Japan Airlines’ 787. Japan’s ANA was the launch customer for Boeing’s 787 and has received 17 Dreamliner aircraft.

Arun Mishra, India’s Director General of Civil Aviation, said the regulator will conduct checks on all six Dreamliners in the Mumbai-based carrier’s fleet.

“This is not good,” said Andrew Orchard, a Hong Kong- based analyst at CIMB Securities HK Ltd. “There could be some sort of softness in demand in the short term, but I don’t think the incidents will have a huge impact on demand in the long term.”

Earlier in the day, Boeing officials had sought to calm passenger and investor concerns about its 787. Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, posted a string of “success stories” from Dreamliner operators on his blog late Tuesday.

“We have complete confidence in the 787 and so do many of our customers,” Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said during Friday’s news conference with the FAA. At that point, the 50 787s Boeing has delivered were flying as many as 150 flights daily.

Following the incident in Japan, Boeing’s shares fell nearly 1.9 percent in after hours trading.

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