Another Dreamliner is forced to land—so when do we call it star-crossed?

July 12 at Heathrow.
July 12 at Heathrow.
Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

A Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner on the way to Tokyo has landed in Boston, returning to its originating airport after a reported fault. An early report suggests a problem with the plane’s fuel pump could be to blame. But whatever the case, Boeing’s flagship airliner is starting to look star-crossed. And its investors are anxious: Boeing’s share price fell in after-hours trading on the report that the JAL plane was returning to Boston.

Peter Wilson of Boston’s WBZ tweeted that a JAL 787 landed safely at Boston’s Logan Airport just after 6 pm EST. Few other details are known. Wilson included this photograph.

This evening in Boston
This evening in Boston
Image: Peter Wilson

But it is potentially the latest problem in an unusual spate of incidents involving the Dreamliner. On July 12, an Ethiopian Airlines 787 caught fire at London’s Heathrow Airport, forcing the closing of all its runways. In an announcement today, British authorities said a small lithium ion battery had possibly been the reason for the fire.

The battery’s chemistry—lithium manganese dioxide–is different from and actually regarded as far less flammable than the main battery technology used on the Boeing planes. The Dreamliners mainly use lithium cobalt oxide batteries, which are the most flammable of the core lithium ion chemistries on the market, and were responsible for fires aboard two other 787s in January. The latter fires resulted in the grounding of the entire Dreamliner fleet until they began to return to service in May and June.

But the UK authorities recommended that the lithium manganese dioxide batteries—used in the plane’s emergency locator transmitter—be disabled until they can be better investigated. US officials so far disagree—they say that the transmitters, using precisely the same batteries, have already been flown for some 50 million miles without incident, and so urge more contemplation before any action.