Qatar Airways, the Middle East’s first operator of the Boeing 787, joined airlines across the continents that scurried to shuffle flights after the United States ordered the grounding of the passenger jet until its battery-related problems are resolved once and for all.
Europe, Japan, Qatar, India and Ethiopia all said they are following instructions from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which late on Wednesday grounded Boeing’s most technologically advanced jetliner until the risk of battery fires is resolved.
Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker said his airline is grounding the aircraft following the airworthiness directive issued by both the FAA and Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority.
Aviation experts say lithium batteries that can leak corrosive fluid and start fires could be a far more serious issue.
Boeing, however, said it is confident the 787 is safe and stands behind its overall integrity. “We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the travelling public of the 787’s safety and to return the airplanes to service,” Boeing chairman, president and CEO Jim McNerney said in a brief statement. “Boeing is committed to supporting?the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities,” he added.
Though the US order strictly applies only to the six Dreamliners operated by United Airlines, aviation companies across the globe were forced to act after Japan’s two largest carriers grounded their 787s on Wednesday following an emergency landing by an All Nippon Airways domestic flight.
“Safety remains the number one priority for Qatar Airways. We ensure all our aircraft meet the most stringent safety standards and this will not be compromised in any way,” Qatar Airways’ Al Baker said.
“In light of recent events surrounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner worldwide, we are actively working with Boeing and the regulators to restore full customer confidence in the 787,” said Qatar Airways, which currently operates five Boeing 787-8 aircraft.
“Qatar Airways will resume 787 operations when we are clear that the aircraft meets the full requirements of the airworthiness directive and our standards which assure the safety of our passengers and crew at all times. So we are not flying the aircraft until and only such a time this is achieved,” Al Baker said, adding: “Our staff are assisting all affected passengers to be accommodated on other flights.”
India’s Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said in statement national carrier Air India has grounded all its six 787 planes.
He said the grounded Dreamliner fleet would be allowed to fly only after clearance by the US regulator. “How long it will take, we will all know only in a couple of days, but there are about 50 Dreamliners in operations for more than a year, therefore more than 50,000 miles. So let us hope they can find a solution soon,” he said.
The European Aviation Safety Agency said it is also endorsing the FAA directive grounding Boeing’s newest jetliner.
Etihad Airways, which has 41 of the most fuel-efficient planes on order, said it is monitoring the pending US National Transportation Safety board review of the Dreamliner programme, adding that it is confident that “any issues with this new aircraft will be resolved before our first is delivered in late 2014”.
The lightweight plane has been plagued by recent mishaps, including the emergency landing of the ANA domestic flight after warning lights indicated a battery problem, raising concerns over its use of lithium-ion batteries.