In a move that could hurt its financial performance, Air India has grounded its entire fleet of six Boeing 787 aircraft, popularly called the Dreamliner. In a statement, the airline said that it has “temporarily stopped operations,” with senior officials indicating that the aircraft could return to service in three-five days.

The move for grounding the fleet started at 3 a.m. on Thursday when the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) received a communication from the US watchdog Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pointing to problems with the battery on the Boeing 787.

In the communication, FAA said that as a result of an in-flight Boeing 787 battery incident in Japan, it was issuing an emergency airworthiness directive to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and will require operators to temporarily cease operations of the aircraft. “Before further flights, operators of US-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe,” the communication added.

Following the early morning communication, the DGCA asked AI to ground the fleet. AI has ordered 27 Boeing 787 aircraft.

Speaking to newspersons, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said that the aircraft would be allowed to fly only after getting FAA and DGCA clearances. When questioned about the seriousness of the trouble, Singh said how long it would take, would only be known in the next couple of days.

For the time being, Air India has “closed” bookings on flights operated by the aircraft. The airline is deploying other aircraft in its fleet to transport passengers booked on the Boeing 787, the airline said.

Since the induction of the Boeing 787 into its fleet in September last year, AI has been reporting an improvement in its financial performance. This has largely been attributed to the 787 being the right aircraft to deploy on the routes that the airline operates.

The aircraft brings revenue of Rs 2 crore a day for the airline and during the October-December 2012 period it earned Rs 172.7 crore from both domestic and international operations combined. The aircraft was used to operate flights from Delhi to Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata, apart from linking the National Capital to Paris, Frankfurt and Dubai.

ashwini.phadnis@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on January 17, 2013)
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