The emergency landing at Takamatsu airport in western Japan is the latest in a string of incidents over the past few days that have raised concerns about the safety of the Boeing (NYSE:BA) twinjet, the first commercial airplane in the world to be made largely from composite materials.
The grounding is a serious blow to the reputation of Boeing's latest product, a revolutionary airplane that has sold enormously well -- airlines all over the world have ordered 890 so far -- because of fuel savings of 20 percent over its predecessor, the Boeing 767, and a series of advanced features for passenger comfort.
All Nippon Airways (TYO:9202) told Reuters that instruments on the plane, flying domestically between Yamaguchi and Tokyo's Haneda airport, indicated a problem with one of the onboard batteries. There was smoke in the cockpit, according to an airport official quoted by Reuters, but that report has not been confirmed by the airline.
Flight NH692 made an emergency landing at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday local time, 11 p.m. Tuesday GMT. The airline said it evacuated 129 passengers and eight crew members from the Dreamliner. Pictures showed the 787 on the ground with the emergency slides deployed, but no signs of smoke or fire. There are no reports of injuries.
The incident comes after a rash recent problems with other 767s, including two fuel leaks, a battery fire, a wiring problem, a brake computer glitch and a cracked cockpit window. None of those incidents have resulted in injury to passengers or serious damage, but they have hurt the image of the $200 million airplane, which entered service in 2011 after years of delays due to problems manufacturing the composite materials and coordinating the worldwide chain of suppliers that make parts for the airplane.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced last week it had opened an investigation into a fire aboard an empty Japan Airlines 787 parked in Boston, sparked by one of the plane's lithium-ion batteries. Li-ion batteries store far more energy, but are more volatile, than lead-acid batteries. The Japanese civil aviation authority has also launched an investigation.
Shortly after the ANA emergency landing and the grounding of the airline's 17 Dreamliners, Japan Airlines (TYO:9201) announced it was grounding its seven 767 jets. The other operators of the 50 Dreamliners delivered so far have not announced similar plans. They include United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) in the U.S., LAN Airlines (NYSE:LFL) in Chile, Ethiopian Airlines, Air India, Qatar Airways and Poland's LOT.
"We’re aware of the ANA 787 diversion in Japan. We will be working with ANA and the authorities to determine what happened and why," Boeing tweeted.
Japan's transport minister had acknowledged, before Wednesday's emergency landing, that passenger confidence in Boeing's new jet is at stake.