The FAA just announced that it is grounding all Boeing 787s in the US, and urging international regulators to do the same after two recent incidents with Lithium-ion batteries. The last time the FAA grounded a fleet of aircraft was the Douglas DC-10 in the wake of an accident in Chicago in 1979. Fortunately, in this instance there has been no loss of life, and the grounding is precautionary while the safety of the batteries on board is investigated further.
Lithium-ion batteries are used in the Airbus A380 and have operated safely in that application. These batteries, the same type as used in many laptop computers, can overheat and have been known on rare occasion to catch fire. The second incident in 8 days, and grounding of half the 787 fleet by Japanese authorities influenced the FAA to take this action.
The FAA typically does not take these actions lightly unless it believes there is a safety concern, or has identified a particularly problems. Having begun a review earlier this week, the FAA has likely either discovered a potential problem or determined that the risks of a battery caused fire on board are serious enough to merit shutting down the aircraft.
Of course, this has significant implications for Boeing’s customers, many of whom were already compensated for the delays in receiving the aircraft, which was three and one half years behind schedule. What we do not yet know is how long the aircraft will be grounded until a review is complete or a solution is found. This will certainly be a top priority for Boeing, whose reputation took a serious hit with the delay, and will be seriously impacted by this grounding.
We will update this post as further information becomes available.