The US FAA issued a directive 2013 that mandates operators to perform special inspection requirements on the Dreamliner airplane battery system following safety inspections that confirmed the main battery beneath the cockpit of the Boeing 787 forced to make an emergency landing in Japan was swollen from overheating.
Besides Ethioipian, India and Europe joined the US and Japan in grounding the technologically advanced aircraft because of fire risk. This directive was issued following recent incidents that occurred on Dreamliner airplanes operated by two other airlines.
Ethiopian Dreamliners have not encountered the type of problems such as those experienced by the other operators. However, as an extra precautionary safety measure
and in line with its commitment of putting safety above all else, Ethiopian has decided to pull out its four Dreamliners from operation and perform the special inspection
requirements mandated by the US FAA.
The airline has been operating the Dreamliner since mid-August last year. Ethiopian Dreamliners have been performing well in the five months service logging record length of non-stop flights and record high daily aircraft utilization in the industry. Since it first received the Dreamliner, Ethiopian has logged 5,560 flight hours with average daily aircraft utilization of 14 hours.
Ethiopian is working closely with Boeing to comply with the US FAA approved special inspection procedure on the battery system and perform the maintenance as per the
directive. The airline aims to return the Dreamliners to service as soon as possible, after full compliance with the new procedure.
US officials, and a Boeing engineer, are due in Japan on Friday to assist with Japan's investigation into the All Nippon Airways 787 that landed in western Japan after a cockpit message showed battery problems and a burning smell was detected in the cockpit and cabin.
The battery in an electrical room beneath the cockpit was swollen and had leaked electrolyte, safety inspector Hideyo Kosugi said on Japanese broadcaster NHK. Investigators found burn marks around the battery, though it was not thought to have caught fire. Kosugi also said the electrolyte liquid leaked through the electrical room floor to the outside of the aircraft, Kyodo news agency reported.
The 787, known as the Dreamliner, is Boeing's newest jet, and the company is counting heavily on its success. Since its launch after delays of more than three years, the plane has been plagued by a series of problems including a battery fire and fuel leaks.
GS Yuasa Corp., the maker of the lithium ion batteries used in the 787s, said it was helping with the investigation but that the cause of the problem was unclear.
still don't know if the problem is with the battery, the power source
or the electronics system," said Yasushi Yamamoto, a spokesperson for the
company which is based in Kyoto, Japan. "The cause of the problem is not
clear," he said.
Thales, which makes the battery charging system, has not commented so far. Boeing said it was working around the clock with investigators.
"We are confident the 787 is safe, and we stand behind its overall integrity," Jim McNerney, company chairperson, president and CEO said in a statement.
Japan's transport ministry categorized Wednesday's problem as a "serious incident" that could have led to an accident.
The ministry had already started a separate inspection Monday of a 787 operated by Japan Airlines that had leaked fuel in Tokyo and Boston, where the flight originated.
In a January 7 incident, a fire ignited in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit of an empty Japan Airlines 787 on the tarmac in Boston. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze.
A computer problem, a minor fuel leak and a cracked windscreen in a cockpit were also reported on a 787 in Japan this month.
Boeing has said that various technical problems are to be expected in the early days of any aircraft model.
Much remains uncertain about the problems being experienced by the 787, said Masaharu Hirokane, analyst at Nomura Securities Co. in Tokyo.
"You need to ensure safety 100 percent, and then you also have to get people to feel that the jet is 100 percent safe," Hirokane said.
Associated Press writers Joan Lowy in Washington and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.