21 JANUARY 2013
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Last week the FAA, responsible for US certification, grounded all Boeing 787 Dreamliners under its patronage, followed by national authorities worldwide. A series of incidents, mostly concerning the lithium-ion batteries fitted to the aircraft, made this move necessary. The batteries are lighter and more powerful than the previous generation but potentially more volatile. They are also fitted to the Airbus A350, but from a different supplier. Since the first 747, and before, Seattle has just been an assembly plant, parts sourced from all over world. A Rolls-Royce 747 is probably one third British.
Sadly it has happened before but with much more serious consequences. In 1954 a series of crashes by the world’s first jet airliner, the Comet 1, grounded the fleet and effectively curtailed Britain’s lead in commercial aircraft design. In the 1960s and 1970s the early jet transports sustained serious accidents on a regular basis. Fatal crashes by the Bristol Britannia, BAC 1-11, Sud Avation Caravelle and Douglas DC10 are now, for the most part, forgotten.
Currently there are 50 Dreamliners delivered to eight airlines. New customers for this year include Thomson Airways and BA in the UK. Current production is five units per month but deliveries from the Charleston and Everett plants have stopped. Cover will be needed for the grounded. Nobody is committing themselves on how long it will take to get the planes back in the air. www.boeing.com/commercial
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