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Corporate Jan 17, 2013

For India to fly Dreamliner, Boeing safety approval a must: Ajit Singh

By Uttara Choudhury

New York: India has grounded all six Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft operated by national carrier Air India after the same decision was made by the US. Federal Aviation Administration, the Indian aviation regulator said on Thursday.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said, " Boeing has to come up with a plan. When they come up with a plan, then we will see. "

Singh also said that India won't fly Dreamliners until the DGCA gives a clearance and theFederal Aviation Administration approves that the Boeing dreamliners are safe to fly.

The US Federal Aviation Administration took action on Wednesday night after Japanese airlines responded to an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport.

American regulators grounded Boeing's newest and most technologically advanced jetliner on Wednesday night, declaring that US airlines cannot fly the 787 Dreamliner again until the risk of battery fires is addressed. It said it would require Boeing to demonstrate its first-ever use of lithium-ion batteries on its passenger jets is safe before allowing flights. It has notified regulators in other countries, including India, of its action.

Experts say lithium-ion batteries have been known to catch fire, in laptops and electric cars.

The FAA action came on the same day that Japan's two biggest airlines which fly almost half of the world's 50 Dremliners grounded them pending full safety checks.

According to reports, the latest trouble arose when pilots for Japan's All Nippon Airways smelled something burning and received a cockpit warning of battery problems on a flight from Yamaguchi Ube airport in Japan to Tokyo. They made an emergency landing on Wednesday at Takamatsu airport in western Japan, and passengers evacuated using inflatable slides. Worryingly, flammable liquid had leaked from the main lithium-ion battery.

This problem with the battery follows a January 7 battery fire on a parked Japan Airlines plane at Boston Logan that took firefighters 40 minutes to extinguish.

Last week, the FAA announced a full review of the Dremliner's design and manufacture after five incidents in five days on different planes in Japan and the US. These included a battery fire, fuel leakages from engines, and cracks developing in the cockpit windscreen.

Air India on Wednesday said that it is waiting for advice from either Boeing or aviation authorities in India or the US about its fleet. However, this morning Director General of Civil Aviation Arun Mishra has reportedly grounded all of Air India's Boeing Dreamliners.

"The FAA has issued an advisory to ground the Dreamliners. We took a decision after that,"DGCA Arun Mishra is quoted as saying by Reuters.

The Director General of Civil Aviation formed a team earlier Wednesday to work with Boeing to judge the safety of the aircraft. AFP

India's airline regulator had earlier said it would decide on whether or not to ground Air India's Dreamliner jets after Boeing submits a report on the aircraft's safety.

The Director General of Civil Aviation formed a team earlier Wednesday to work with Boeing to judge the safety of the aircraft.

"Our engineers and flight safety department is reviewing these aircraft before each flight. As of now there is no plan to ground the B-787 but we are watching the situation very closely. We will not hesitate in taking any step in the interest of passenger safety," said Air India chief Rohit Nandan.

Air India received its first Dreamliner last September. The same month, the jet developed a snag in its power-equipment-liquid-cooling system and electrical-power system, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told parliament last month.

Boeing's Dreamliner, which has a list price of $207 million, is the cornerstone of Air India's fleet renewal strategy. Air India is replacing its older, fuel-guzzling planes with the Dreamliner as part of its efforts to cut costs and make a turnaround after five consecutive years of losses.

Air India already operates flights to Dubai, Paris and Frankfurt with Dreamliner jets, and has recently taken delivery of the sixth of 27 Dreamliner planes ordered in January 2006. Another six planes will join Air India's fleet by December. The national carrier plans to induct the remaining 15 Dreamliner jets through 2016

The Dreamliner made mostly of lightweight carbon composites instead of metal, cuts down airline costs for fuel, while allowing carriers to fly non-stop between distant destinations. Given that fuel is now the biggest single item in an airline's operating cost, experts say the Dreamliner gives a 25 percent saving per seat which is a big change in the economics of the aircraft.

At least 50 airlines, including Air India, bought into the Dreamliner, believing the fuel-efficient jet would offer a competitive edge.

Boeing shares fell 2 percent in after-hours trading to $72.80 after the FAA announcement.

by Uttara Choudhury

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