THE world’s entire fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners have been grounded in the most drastic aviation safety move for 34 years.
• Thomson’s Glasgow-Florida Dreamliner route has highest number of bookings amongst all flights
• All Dreamliner aircraft have now been grounded
• Dreamliner has been beset by problems since 2011
Travel agents now fear the first Dreamliner flights from Scotland could be delayed, but Thomson Airways said it still expected to launch the services from Glasgow to Florida and Mexico in May.
Eight airlines have withdrawn a total of 50 of the cutting-edge aircraft from service, following the lead of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States over battery faults.
The FAA had ordered the six operated by United Airlines to be halted following a review launched last week, and said the batteries would have to be shown to be safe before the planes could resume flying.
It has not grounded an entire class of aircraft since a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 crashed in Chicago in 1979.
A series of faults besetting the plane led to one operated by a Japanese airline making an emergency landing on Tuesday following a battery fault and burning smell.
Japan’s two largest airlines, All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines were the first to ground their 24 Dreamliners on Wednesday following the ANA emergency landing, which was followed by the FAA order yesterday.
The European Aviation Safety Agency ordered European airlines to ground their aircraft, although this only affected two operated by Polish carrier LOT.
The Indian government ordered Air India to ground its fleet of six Boeing 787s, while similar moves were made by Qatar Airways, which has five, and Chilean carrier LAN, which has three.
Ethiopian Airlines were last in grounding its four 787s “for precautionary inspection.”
Qatar operates the only UK Dreamliner flights, launching them on the Heathrow-Doha route in December.
In the Japanese incident, electrolytes, a flammable battery fluid, was found to have leaked from the plane’s main lithium-ion battery, with burn marks found round the damage.
In a previous battery incident last week, an auxiliary power unit on an Japan Airlines 787, empty of passengers, caught fire after landing in Boston.
The FAA said the two incidents resulted in the release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage and smoke.
Safety experts said the release of battery fluid was especially worrying because it is extremely corrosive and can quickly damage electrical wiring and components.
The 787 relies far more than any other aircraft on electrical systems to function, and is the first plane to make extensive use of lithium batteries, which charge faster and can be better moulded to save space than traditional batteries.
The electrolyte fluid also conducts electricity, so as it spreads it can cause short-circuits and ignite fires.
Its corrosiveness also raises concern about whether a leak might weaken a key support structure of the plane, even though the 787 is the first airliner to be made primarily from lightweight composite materials that are less susceptible to corrosion than aluminium.
Kevin Hiatt, president and of the US-based Flight Safety Foundation, said: “Anytime you have leakage of battery fluid it’s a very serious situation.”
John Goglia, an expert on aircraft maintenance and former US National Transportation Safety Board member said the fluid leak identified in the ANA plane was a “very significant finding.”
He said such a fault could interfere with electrical signals, making it impossible for pilots to control the plane.
Boeing chairman Jim McNerney said the company was working with the FAA to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
He said: “We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand 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.”
The aircraft has an 8,000-mile range and is 20 per cent more fuel efficient than other planes, while Boeing also claims its lower cabin pressure reduces the effects of jet lag.
Kevin Thom, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents Association, which represents travel agents, said of the potential impact on Thomson’s Glasgow flights: “There is reason to be concerned. It could cause a delay on Thomson using the aircraft, so they will be making contingency plans.”
The airline is due to receive the first of its eight Dreamliners within weeks, which will require a certificate of airworthiness from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority.
A Thomson spokesman said: “We are still working to our original delivery dates.”
Airlines have ordered 800 more Dreamliners, including British Airways, which is due to receive its first of 24 in May.