Industry reacts cautiously to Dreamliner ‘teething troubles’

Industry experts have reacted cautiously to the grounding of most of the world’s Boeing Dreamliner aircraft following a series of safety incidents.

Europe, the US and India have followed Japan’s two biggest airlines in temporarily halting flights of the Boeing 787 airliner, after an All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight was forced to land when a battery error triggered emergency warnings.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week launched a comprehensive review of the 787 after five incidents in as many days, including fuel leaks and a battery fire.

But the FAA has now grounded flights until airlines can demonstrate the batteries — made by Japanese company GS Yuasa — are safe, a move followed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and regulators in India and Chile.

Boeing shares closed three per cent down on Wall Street at the end of Wednesday but aerospace business experts have suggested such technical problems are not uncommon in the early life of a major aircraft such as the Dreamliner.

‘The [Airbus] A320’s introduction to service was fraught with mishaps including one very controlled landing on a forest,’ said Keith Hayward, head of research at the Royal Aeronautical Society. ‘Since then, of course, the A320 has gone on to be one of the most reliable and effective commercial transports produced.’

Airbus’s most recent airliner, the A380, has also been subject to investigations in the last few years following an engine failure and the discovery of wing cracks that led to the replacement of many of the aircraft’s Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines and €200m (£160m) worth of repairs.

Hayward told The Engineer that the Dreamliner’s problems could be costly for Boeing but that the situation was not catastrophic and that the groundings were an example of the system working as it should.

‘[Batteries catching on fire] isn’t necessarily a critical problem, although it has to be sorted out pretty damn quickly, because there is a safety question. Therefore, the grounding of the fleet is a wise decision.’

He added that a more serious question was whether problems with the electrical system pointed to a more systematic issue. ‘That could be very expensive. But all of this is subject to analysis,’ he said.

On the question of what opportunities the problems might create for other companies, Hayward said it would create useful breathing space for Airbus, which has delayed the launch of its A350 by more than a year, but Chinese companies hoping to compete their western rivals were not yet ready to take advantage of the situation.