FAA grounds Boeing's 787 'Dreamliners' after incident in Japan

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered U.S. airlines to stop flying the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner."

The decision follows a series of incidents that led to an investigation by the agency. 

"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." 

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

The agency said the 787 battery failure's "resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two Model 787 airplanes.

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

Boeing tweeted earlier Wednesday that it was "aware of the ANA 787 diversion in Japan. 

"We will be working with ANA and the authorities to determine what happened and why," the company said in its tweet.

The company said 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 Company to assist." 

McNerney added that Boeing was "confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity. 

"We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787's safety and to return the airplanes to service," he said. "Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers."

The FAA launched its initial review of the 787 after a spate of incidents involving the aircraft, including the first electrical fire that was sparked by a battery in Boston.

Additionally, another 787 developed a fuel leak last week, and the computers on a third plane wrongly indicated there was a problem with the brakes. No one was injured in any of the incidents.

Even as the FAA announced its initial review of the 787, Transportation Secretary LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta moved to reassured airline passengers that the aircraft was safe to fly on during a Friday press conference. 

"I believe this plane is safe and I would have absolutely no reservations of boarding one of these planes and taking a flight," LaHood said. "These planes are safe."

Boeing Vice President Ray Conner argued at the same press conference that the 787 went through "the most robust and rigorous certification process in the history of commercial aviation" when it was initially approved by the FAA in August 2011.

"A lot of these issues are typical issues that come across with every airplane that's in service," Connor said.

The FAA said Wednesday that only one U.S. airline, United Airlines, is currently flying 787s. Airlines in other countries have also begun flying the airplane, however, though at least one Japanese airline has said it is also halting flights on the "Dreamliner."

The decision to ground the 787 could impact future orders of the aircraft for Boeing, which has touted the large airplane as a potentially big moneymaker.

—This post was updated with new information at 11:25 p.m.