Sen. Rockefeller backs FAA grounding 787s, has ‘serious concerns’

The Senate lawmaker responsible for overseeing the nation's aviation system warned Thursday that he has “serious concerns” about Boeing's 787 “Dreamliner" aircraft after the planes were grounded pending a safety review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA said Wednesday evening that it was ordering U.S. airlines to stop flying 787 airplanes after a series of incidents during the aircraft’s rollout.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he agreed with the FAA’s decision.

"Safety is, and should be, the highest priority for the aviation system,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “Recent incidents involving the plane's power systems raise serious concerns, and [FAA] Administrator [Michael] Huerta's decision to require additional inspections is prudent under the circumstances."

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A committee spokesman said Rockefeller would lead “aggressive oversight” of the 787 airplanes based on a 2010 aviation safety law and the $63 billion FAA funding bill that was passed by lawmakers last year.

The spokesman said the Senate panel would take “appropriate action once we get more information from the FAA.”

The FAA said Wednesday night that it decided to ground the 787 airplanes after a second electrical fire that was sparked by a battery.

"As a result of an in-flight, Boeing 787 battery incident earlier today in Japan, the FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations," the FAA said in a statement. "Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe."

The agency said it will work quickly with airlines and Boeing "to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible."

"The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation," the FAA added. "These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment."

Boeing has maintained the safety of the 787, saying in a statement Wednesday evening that it was "committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible.

"The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority," Boeing President Jim McNerney said in a statement. "The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of the Boeing Co. to assist."