Air India hopes B-787 problem will soon be resolved

New Delhi, Jan 17 (IANS) National carrier Air India expects the technical problems with its newly acquired Boeing 787 aircraft would soon be resolved.

"We are confident that these technical problems will be resolved soon. We are in the know that the Boeing company is to submit its initial findings report to the FAA (US' Federal Aviation Administration) today (Thursday) evening," a senior Air India official told IANS Thursday.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) Thursday grounded Air India's six Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft after an FAA directive to stop operations of all the 50 such planes delivered so far to various airlines.

According to the Air India official, some international airlines which operate the B-787 had faced problems with the aircraft's battery systems' getting overheated. Recently, a smoke alarm was activated in a domestic flight operating in Japan.

"As far as the initial reports go, there is a fire risk associated with enhanced use of battery systems on board which have replaced many traditional hydraulic systems, thereby making the aircraft lighter. As this incident has happened only once, an initial investigation is in the offing," the official said.

The grounding - an unusual action for a new plane - focuses on one of the more risky design choices made by Boeing, namely to make extensive use of lithium ion batteries aboard its airplanes for the first time.

The batteries are part of an electrical system that replaces many mechanical and hydraulic ones common in previous jets.

When contacted, DGCA said it would wait for the results of the FAA's inquiry into Boeing's ability to fix the fire risk, linked to battery systems on board the aircraft.

The FAA's emergency directive, issued Wednesday night, initially applied to United Airlines, the only American carrier using the new plane.

The agency said it expected international regulators would take "parallel action". That would mean grounding of all 50 of the 787s delivered so far.

The national carrier is the only airline in India to operate 787 Dreamliner. Currently, it has six operational 787s.

It said that four 787s were grounded in Delhi, while one each had been stationed in Bangalore and Chennai.

Air India had booked 27 Boeing 787s in 2006 in a mega-deal. Till now it has received six of these aircraft. Air India is supposed to get seven more 787s in 2013, five in 2014, six in 2015 and three in 2016.

The airline operates these aircraft from Delhi to Bangalore, Chennai, Dubai, Paris and Frankfurt.

On Sep 19, Air India started the first commercial Dreamliner service between Delhi and Chennai and then followed with the New Delhi-Bangalore route.

As a part of its contingency plan, the passenger carrier will deploy Boeing 777s on some of the international routes like Delhi-Frankfurt and Delhi-Paris.

The Dubai route may be serviced by 777s or Airbus A321.

The Dreamliner has replaced fuel-guzzling Boeing 777s on some of international routes, thus saving on cost and increasing efficiency.

Buoyed by the aircraft's performance, the civil aviation ministry asked the airline to explore possibility of operating to Bali and Istanbul on the Dreamliner aircraft.

Air India was also planning to deploy the aircraft to Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore by the end of the current fiscal.

The aircraft is made of composite materials. Its newly-developed engine and advanced flight technologies make it highly fuel-efficient. The plane can fly up to 16,000 km non-stop.

The Dreamliners are also an important component in the national carrier's turnaround plan which was passed by the union cabinet last year.

Apart from Air India, Ethiopian Airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL), All Nippon Airways (ANA), LAN Airlines of Chile, LOT of Poland, Qatar Airways and United Airlines of the US fly the aircraft.

There are orders for about 800 units of 787s in the pipeline.

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