Boeing 787 Returns in Japan as ANA, JAL Resume Flights

Japan Carriers Resume Dreamliner Flights
A Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner aircraft operated by All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA) taxis on the tarmac at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

ANA Holdings Inc. and Japan Airlines Co., the world’s biggest operators of Boeing Co. 787s, resumed commercial service with the plane after battery malfunctions kept the Dreamliner fleet grounded for more than four months.

ANA’s flight to Frankfurt took off at 1:17 a.m. today from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, according to Houston-based industry data tracker JAL’s flight to Singapore departed at 1:22 a.m., according to FlightAware.

The carriers, which have a total of 27 Dreamliners, are flying the fuel-efficient aircraft to cities such as Boston and San Jose, California, that wouldn’t be profitable with larger planes. Suspension of 787 services would affect sales this year, ANA and JAL have said, after melting batteries on two jets spurred regulators to park all the planes in January.

“The restart of flights without any hitches is a good sign for the airlines,” said Osuke Itazaki, an SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. analyst in Tokyo. “To increase the top line, the airlines need to increase their destinations, which they can do with the 787.”

Japan has been the biggest market so far for Boeing’s plane, the first jetliner made chiefly of composite plastic materials. That meant ANA and JAL had the broadest disruptions while the aircraft were grounded and Boeing was rushing to find a fix for the lithium-ion batteries.

Among the eight Dreamliner operators, Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise began flying again in April while Qatar Airways Ltd., Air India Ltd. and United Continental Holdings Inc. resumed service last month. LOT Polish Airlines SA said May 17 it would resume Dreamliner flights on June 5.

Emergency Landing

ANA fell 1.8 percent to 213 yen at close of Tokyo trading yesterday. The stock has gained 18 percent this year, compared with a 33 percent advance in the Nikkei 225 Stock Average and JAL’s 41 percent gain.

One of ANA’s 787s made an emergency landing on Jan. 16 after smoke from a lithium-ion battery was detected. Nine days earlier, a battery had caught fire on a JAL 787 in Boston. No one was injured in either incident.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered 787s in domestic service grounded, the first such action for an entire model since 1979, and regulators around the world followed suit. The Dreamliner is the only large commercial jet equipped with lithium-ion batteries as part of its power system.

The groundings may have reduced ANA sales by about 16 billion yen ($159 million), according to figures from the company. JAL’s probably lost 6.5 billion yen in sales due to the groundings, it has said.

More Protection

Boeing redesigned the battery to include more protection around individual cells to contain any overheating, added a steel case to prevent fire and a tube that would vent any fumes outside the fuselage. Carriers began 787 test flights after the FAA approved the battery upgrades.

The 787 is safe to fly, even as the cause of the battery meltdowns remains uncertain, Mike Sinnett, vice president and chief project engineer of the 787 program, said in April.

ANA received its 19th Dreamliner last month, while JAL has eight 787s, the airlines have said separately. ANA has orders for 66 Dreamliners, while JAL has ordered 45.