WASHINGTON Lithium batteries that can leak corrosive fluid and start fires have emerged as the chief safety concern involving Boeing’s 787, a problem that apparently is far more serious than government or company officials acknowledged less than a week ago.
The Federal Aviation Administration late Wednesday grounded Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced jetliner until the risk of battery fires is resolved. The order applies only to the six 787s operated by United Airlines, the lone U.S. carrier with 787s.
But other airlines and civil aviation authorities in other countries will be under pressure to follow suit or face possible accusations of taking unnecessary risks with public safety.
Japan’s two largest air carriers voluntarily grounded their 787s on Wednesday ahead of the FAA’s order, after an emergency landing by one of the planes in Japan.
On Thursday, the European Aviation Safety Agency ordered all European carriers to ground the jetliner. And the Indian government ordered Air India to ground its fleet of six Boeing 787s.
Only hours before the FAA issued its order, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reiterated to reporters that he considers the plane safe and wouldn’t hesitate to fly one. LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta unequivocally declared the plane safe at a news conference last week even while they ordered a safety review of the aircraft.