United Joins LOT Defying Dreamliner Scare by Flying 787s

United Continental Holdings Inc., the only U.S. carrier operating Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner, joined LOT Polish Airlines SA in continuing to fly the jets after two Japanese companies grounded their fleets.

“We inspected all of our 787 aircraft and they are flying as scheduled,” Mary Ryan, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based United, said in an e-mail. The company has six of the planes.

United, LOT and carriers including Qatar Airways are sticking with their Dreamliner service after an emergency landing by an All Nippon Airways Co. aircraft prompted the first operator of the 787 and Japan Airlines Co. to ground their fleets today and tomorrow. The aircraft, built from plastic composite materials, has been plagued by in-flight and on-ground technical faults since deliveries began in 2011.

United Flight 33 is being operated with a 787 jet that left Tokyo’s Narita airport about 8 p.m. local time, two hours late, and is due to arrive at Los Angeles shortly before noon today local time, according to the carrier’s website. United is also flying 787s from Houston to Los Angeles, Chicago and Newark, New Jersey, Ryan said.

LOT, Europe’s first operator of the Dreamliner, proceeded with its inaugural trans-Atlantic flight today. Flight LO3 to Chicago O’Hare International Airport from Warsaw left at 4:18 p.m. local time, according to the airline’s website.

“We conducted preventively a series of reviews of all systems in both Boeing 787s we have in our fleet,” LOT said in an e-mail. “All the tests were completed positively.”

FAA Review

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has started a review of the entire Dreamliner program, with particular attention to the power system and lithium-ion batteries being used for the first time on a commercial aircraft.

The decision by the Japanese carriers, which represent the bulk of the in-service 787 fleet with 17 operated by ANA and seven by Japan Airlines, “is not surprising given the public interest,” said Paul Hayes, head of safety at Ascend, a London-based aviation consultant.

“There’s been no service bulletin, no airworthiness directives by safety regulators, so the decision to ground is purely a commercial one,” Hayes said.

LOT, based in Warsaw, said its aircraft are not among the initial production batch and therefore have “modifications which reduce technical problems appearing in previously manufactured Dreamliners for the other carriers.”

American Airlines, with pending orders for 42 Boeing Co. 787s, said it expects the planemaker to resolve the operating issues

“I’m confident that will be a good airplane,” American Chief Executive Officer Tom Horton said in an interview today. “Boeing and the operators will work through the issues.”

Emergency Landing

ANA pilots made an emergency landing in Japan this morning after seeing a battery-fault warning and smelling smoke, prompting the grounding. The event came a week after a battery in a Japan Airlines Dreamliner caught fire in Boston, prompting U.S. regulators to review the jet that entered service in 2011.

Qatar Air, which operates five 787s, said it would continue flying. Arun Mishra, India’s director general of civil aviation, said the regulator will conduct checks on all six Dreamliners in Mumbai-based Air India’s fleet. Ethiopian Airlines said “minor bugs” are common on new aircraft, and that it is pleased with the aircraft’s performance so far.

Ethiopian, sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest carrier, said its 787s have accrued 5,500 flying hours, achieving utilization of about 14 hours a day without any significant issues.

“We have been using them very well and our experience is good,” Chief Operating Officer Mesfin Tassew told Bloomberg television in an interview. “Customers are happy with the airplanes and at this time we have no sufficient reason to ground them.”

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