The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded all Boeing 787 Dreamliners operating out of the U.S. over fears the plane's batteries could spark fires. Shortly after 787s in Europe, Qatar and India were also grounded.
The FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive because of the meltdown of a lithium ion battery and threat of fire on board an All Nippon Airways 787 early Wednesday in Japan that prompted an emergency landing and evacuation.
"Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe and in compliance," the FAA said in a statement.
"The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible."
The Japanese incident followed a similar one on board another 787 last week at Boston's Logan Airport.
"The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment," the FAA said.
United Airlines is currently the only U.S. carrier operating the 787 with six of the new jetliners in service.
Japan's All Nippon Airways and Japan Air Lines both grounded their fleets of 787s earlier Wednesday after the latest incident.
The other airlines currently operating the 787 are Air India, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, LAN of Chile and LOT of Poland.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Boeing wrote:
The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority.
Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of The Boeing Company to assist.
We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity. We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787's safety and to return the airplanes to service.
Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers."
"This is a very tough blow to the aircraft and Boeing," said former NTSB head and CBS aviation analyst Mark Rosenker. "Through this airworthiness directive they're going to keep these aircraft on the ground until they can prove to the FAA that the batteries are safe and in compliance with certification."
The FAA had already ordered a review of the 787's critical systems last week following a number of incidents.
Kevin Hyatt, President and CEO of the Alexandria, Va. based Flight Safety Foundation, told KIRO Radio while it was a difficult decision for the FAA, it was the right one to guarantee safety.
"Especially when you start to think about smoke or fire on board, that was probably the point then that more focus was going to be put on this area," he said.
Boeing shares fell two percent in after-hours trading to $72.80 after the FAA announcement.