The grounding of Boeing's Dreamliner by aviation authorities in the US, Japan, Chile Poland and India comes at a time when the aircraft maker was getting set to put problems with the aircraft behind and double production to 10 units a month by the end of the year.
The Dreamliner began commercial operations three years behind schedule, in 2011. So, far Boeing has delivered 50 planes and has orders for another 800.
However, the aircraft has faced a series of production-related problems. Just last week, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a full review of the plane's design and manufacture after a series of incidents, including battery fires, fuel leakages, and cracks developing in the cockpit windscreen.
Boeing's cup of woe overflowed when the FAA grounded the aircraft late on Wednesday after an All Nippon Airways Dreamliner made an emergency landing. The plane had to land after in-flight alarms went off due to over-heating of a battery. The FAA has told Boeing to prove that the batteries are safe for resumption of flights. Japan had already grounded the aircraft a day earlier. Following the FAA's decision, the Director General of Civil Aviation ordered Air India to ground its six Dreamliners this morning (January 17).
Experts quoted by international media are suggesting that the problem with the Dreamliner's lithium-ion batteries can be fixed quickly. They believe flights could resume "in a few days or beginning next week".
Even if the Dreamliner starts flying again soon, Boeing will face huge challenges in convincing the public that it is indeed safe to fly in the aircraft. Experts say it needs to find a permanent solution to the problem soon. The aircraft has two lithium-ion batteries that supply power to various systems such as flight controls, emergency lighting and cockpit recorders. These are built into the aircraft's design and cannot be swapped with another battery. Resolving this problem will prove to be a big challenge, say experts.
If a quick solution is not found, cancellation of existing orders for the Dreamliner looks like a very real possibility. And Boeing's ability to attract more customers will be impaired.
As far as India is concerned, the DGCA has made it clear that the aircraft will stay grounded until the FAA takes a decision to allow the aircraft to fly again. The development will hurt Boeing's chances of effectively challenging airbus, its main rival, which has a greater market share in India.