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Japan Grounds All Boeing Dreamliners


We are also following a story in Japan that strikes a blow at one of the world's great aircraft makers. Japan has grounded its entire fleet of 787 Dreamliners. This move came after an electrical problem forced an All Nippon Airlines 787 to make an emergency landing. Here's NPR's Wendy Kaufman.

WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: In the past week, the electrical system on Boeing's new flagship jet has come under intense scrutiny, prompted first by a battery fire onboard a Japan Airline 787 shortly after that plane arrived at the gate in Boston. But the latest incident is far more troubling, having occurred at 30,000 feet. Shortly after takeoff on a domestic flight in Japan, the cockpit instrument showed a problem with the battery and warned of smoke in the forward electronics compartment. There was a strange smell in the cockpit and in the cabin. The pilot made a safe emergency landing. At a news conference in Tokyo, ANA vice president Osamu Shinobe expressed apologies to the passengers and their families.

OSAMU SHINOBE: (Japanese spoken)

KAUFMAN: There are currently 50 787s operating worldwide. It's the world's most innovative aircraft, with new materials and extensive and complex electronics. And as with any new airplane program, you would expect to see some growing pains. But the latest incident has prompted the grounding of nearly half the global fleet. Japan's two major airlines own that many. It's a huge blow to Boeing.

GUY NORRIS: I think it's ratcheted up what was already building up to be a fairly serious situation.

KAUFMAN: Guy Norris is a senior editor at Aviation Week, who's written books about airplane programs, including the 787.

NORRIS: I think that Boeing must be at the stage looking more seriously at what it has to do to either guarantee the safety of the battery system or in fact look at alternatives to that design.

KAUFMAN: The battery in question is a lithium ion battery, a type that's been linked to fires in the past. The Federal Aviation Administration imposed what's known as a special condition in approving the battery for the 787. And Boeing took special care to mitigate any potential hazard. So far, Boeing has said very little about the latest incident and the grounding of its airplanes. The company has long touted the 787 as a game-changing aircraft that uses much less fuel and is more comfortable for passengers. But right now the plane Boeing calls the Dreamliner is anything but that. Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And we'll continue to follow that spreading and developing story right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wendy Kaufman