The fuel-efficient Dreamliner aircraft resumed flying after a months-long grounding for serious battery problems, and analysts warn that the mounting list of mishaps could have a psychological impact on wary fliers.
Last Friday, a 787 flown by Ethiopian Airlines caught fire at London’s Heathrow airport. No one was aboard the parked plane at the time of the incident.
British authorities have since recommended that distress beacons on board all Boeing Dreamliners be disabled, after identifying the devices as the likely cause of the fire pending further investigation.
The Japan Airlines (JAL) plane left from Boston’s Logan Airport at 12:57pm (1657 GMT) on Thursday, but returned around 6pm.
“As a standard precautionary measure due to a maintenance message (fuel pump) indicator, JL007 bound for Tokyo-Narita decided to return to Boston Logan for check and landed safely,” Carol Anderson, a US-based JAL spokeswoman, told AFP in an email.
JAL officials in Tokyo confirmed the maintenance message but dismissed concerns that the return might signal a new problem for the plane.
“We decided to return as a precaution… as a message showing a malfunction of a fuel pump at the right engine appeared in the cockpit,” said a JAL spokesman.
Even if the pump was faulty, there was no safety risk as the engine has a back-up mechanism, he said.
“There’s no emergency at all in this case. We just wanted to be on the safe side,” he said, adding that “this has nothing to do with the battery system”.
The US Federal Aviation Administration said the pilot did not declare an emergency as he returned to Boston.
JAL and rival All Nippon Airways (ANA), the Dreamliner’s biggest customers, have experienced a growing list of minor complaints with the 787 since it was allowed to resume flying.
Makiko Nakagawa, aviation analyst at Fukoku Capital Management, warned that the mishaps could exacerbate concern among passengers.
“The recent troubles are not significant enough to lead to a major blow such as suspending operations, but the psychological impact is not so small,” she told AFP.
“That’s partially because media coverage of the Dreamliner has been quite extensive.”
JAL shares fell 0.93 percent to 5,320 yen by the morning break Friday, while ANA clawed back earlier losses to finish the session flat at 219 yen, as the benchmark Nikkei 225 index slumped 1.09 percent.
“Although there is nothing that suggests another temporary halt of Dreamliner operations at this point, the series of accidents may yet spark concerns over a possible link,” Naoki Fujiwara, fund manager at Shinkin Asset Management, told Dow Jones Newswires.
All 50 Boeing 787s in service were grounded in mid-January after a battery fire on one plane parked at the Boston airport. In a separate incident, smoke from a battery aboard an ANA flight in Japan forced an emergency landing.
After months of investigation, US authorities in April formally approved Boeing’s battery fix and Japanese regulators followed suit, allowing the Dreamliner to return to the skies.
The plane’s Japanese battery supplier, GS Yuasa, has voiced confidence about the fixed system.
“Similar problems will never happen again,” GS Yuasa president Makoto Yoda told the Asahi newspaper in an interview published Thursday.
GS Yuasa shares were down 2.26 percent to 432 yen on Friday morning.