Will 787 Battery Meltdowns Be a Problem for Boeing in 2014?

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Boeing 787 Jet on Fire

This time last year, Boeing (NYSE:BA) and its 787 Dreamliner were facing the beginning a four-month, worldwide grounding of the aircraft, the first such global grounding in 30 years. On January 16, 2013, following two lithium-ion battery meltdowns on planes operated by Japan Airlines (JALFQ.PK) and ANA Holdings (ALNPY.PK), the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency airworthiness directive that kept all 787s on the ground in the United States.

Then, Japan’s Transport Ministry, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, and the Dirección General de Aeronautica Civil of Chile followed suit. In total, all 50 Dreamliners owned by eight airlines remained out of service for the next couple of months while Boeing engineers searched for a means to prevent the batteries from overheating.

What followed next was a series of well-publicized 787 Dreamliner malfunctions. In November, Japan Airlines, known as JAL, reported that a cockpit indicator showed a problem with one craft’s battery. Most recently, a JAL 787 aircraft remained grounded at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. Regulators were called in to check the plane after maintenance engineers detected white smoke venting from the plane on Tuesday. When the battery — which is encased in a steel containment box — was inspected, the engineers found that one of the eight battery cells had leaked.

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