Saturday 24 February 2018

Ethiopian Airlines becomes first to resume flying grounded Dreamliner

An Ethiopian Airlines' 787 Dreamliner prepares for departure from the Bole International Airport in Ethiopias capital Addis Ababa
An Ethiopian Airlines' 787 Dreamliner prepares for departure from the Bole International Airport in Ethiopias capital Addis Ababa

Ethiopian Airlines has become the world's first carrier to resume flying Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner passenger jets, landing the first commercial flight since the global fleet was grounded three months ago.

 The flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi came after regulators grounded all Dreamliners on Jan 16 following incidents of overheating in the batteries providing auxiliary power.

Two lithium-ion battery meltdowns occurred on two jets with other airlines within two weeks that month, one causing a fire on a parked plane in Boston.

US regulators approved a new battery design last week, clearing the way for installation and a resumption of Dreamliner flights by airlines around the world.

The battery faults raised fears of a possible mid-air fire, drawing worldwide attention to Boeing and denting the reputation of its flagship plane.

"I wasn't aware that I was going to be on the 787 Dreamliner until on my way to the airport. It was a good service and the flight was pleasant," said Senait Mekonnen, an Ethiopian restaurateur, moments after the plane landed.

The fully booked flight arrived at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport just after 9.30 GMT, with passengers giving the crew a round of applause upon landing.

The grounding of the Dreamliner fleet has cost Boeing an estimated $600 million, halted deliveries of the aircraft and forced some airlines to lease alternative planes.

The Dreamliner cost an estimated $20 billion to develop and represents a quantum leap forward in design, offering a 20 percent reduction in fuel burn and added cabin comforts such as higher humidity, larger windows and modern styling.

But by sparking fears of a dangerous mid-air fire, the battery problems drew worldwide attention to both aircraft safety and the technology behind lithium-ion batteries, which are widely used in laptops, mobile phones, electric cars and other products.

The scrutiny turned from what are often called normal "teething pains" for a new plane into a serious crisis for Boeing.

Airlines were swiftly barred from flying the 250-seat aircraft, which carries a list price of $207 million. The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched a full-scale investigation to find the root cause of the Boston fire, but has not yet found the cause.

The last time an airliner fleet was grounded was more than a generation ago, when the US Federal Aviation Administration banned the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 jet in 1979 after a crash in Chicago killed 273 people.

Boeing spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars redesigning the battery system, drawing on its vast staff of engineers and experts in everything from fighter planes to rockets and satellites.

International airlines have been slowly putting the Dreamliner back into their schedules.


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