The news over the last few days about Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner has been unnerving—to say the least.
Last night, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority grounded the aircraft pending a comprehensive review of the fire risk posed by the plane's lithium-ion battery. This comes a day after a Dreamliner in Japan's All Nippon Airways fleet was formed to make an emergency landing because of a defective battery—and a week after the battery was faulted with starting a fire aboard a parked Japan Airways 787 at Boston's Logan airport. Both of Japan's airlines grounded their fleets after the emergency landing. With the FAA directive, other international carriers with 787s followed suit. Among them: Air India, Chile's LAN Airlines, LOT (Poland), Qatar Airways, and United Airlines here in the States.
The Dreamliner's use of lightweight lithium-ion batteries is a central part of the plane's design and key to its ability to fly long distances with less fuel. In its statement, the FAA said it is working with Boeing to develop "a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible." Whether this will involve a fix to the current battery system or a more comprehensive (and costly) overhaul remains to be seen.
Though the FAA's grounding of the Dreamliner is unsettling to many travelers, it's also a reminder of the robust safety system that's in place when a new aircraft takes to the skies.