India grounds fleet of Dreamliner

All six aircraft pulled out citing FAA concerns.

R. Chandrasekaran

CHENNAI: Air India, India’s leading and government controlled airliner, joined other global bigwigs in grounding Boeing’s Dreamliner, on Thursday. The decision to halt operations of its fleet of six Dreamliner is not surprising since it came on the back of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) directive to ground it temporarily, citing safety concerns.

India’s Director General of Civil Aviation followed it after a second incident of the battery failure on Wednesday. Japan-based All Nippon Airways’ Dreamliner plane made an emergency landing on Wednesday following an error from battery triggering warnings in the cockpit. The FAA has advised to ground all the 50 Dreamliners delivered to various airlines so far by Boeing.

Of Air India’s six Dreamliners, three are being used for domestic circuits, while two are used for international routes to Paris and Frankfurt. The sixth one is always kept as standby. Since there are only two Dreamliners used for international routes, Air India does not see any services getting affected by its decision to ground Dreamliner. The airliner will press Boeing 777 into service for the Paris and Frankfurt routes.

The domestic routes too will not be affected since Air India is confident that its
current fleet of aircraft will be able to absorb demand seamlessly.

The Dreamliner is not likely to be pressed into services until Boeing addresses the concerns raised by the FAA. The U.S. regulator has advised the company to demonstrate the safety of lithium ion battery, which is the center of concern, before they can allow Dreamliner to fly again. There is no time frame given to the airplane maker.

The U.S. is not alone in its decision; Europe and Japan too grounded Boeing’s Dreamliner. Poland is the only European nation that has not grounded Dreamliner so far. This is the first incident for a U.S.-made plane to be grounded after the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 incident in 1979 following a crash in Chicago.

Lithium ion batteries have been used for over 20 years, especially in electronic items such as laptops, and are becoming more popular for electric cars too. These batteries are small and light weight compared to nickel-metal hydride battery. However, this battery’s energy capacity is nearly double. Therefore, there is growing clamor to use lithium ion batteries wherever possible.

However, if lithium ion batteries are overcharged or if a short-circuit happens, then there could be problems since it contains flammable chemicals. Boeing uses these batteries for emergency lighting and other purposes.

The ball is now in Boeing’s court to showcase the safety of lithium ion batteries or come with alternative plans to remove any misgivings. As of now, there is no clarity as to when the Dreamliners will be pressed back into service.

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