Five questions answered on Japan’s grounded Dreamliner fleet

What are the implications?

Japan’s two main airliners have been forced to ground its fleet of Boeing Dreamliner planes. We answer five questions on the Boeing Dreamliner’s current problems.

Why have the planes been grounded?

It is believed Japan’s two leading airlines, Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, grounded all Boeing 787 Dreamliners after Nippon Airways was forced to make an emergency landing due to battery problems.

On Wednesday the  ANA's flight NH 692 left Yamaguchi Ube in western Japan at 08:10 local time (23:10 GMT) and headed for Tokyo's Haneda airport. Shortly after take off Pilots received a warning telling them smoke was inside one of the electrical compartments, although the source of the smoke is not yet known.

Pilots also received a warning that there was a fault in the on board battery system. It is believed the battery on board is the same battery as the one involved in a fire on another Dreamliner at a US airport last week.

Pilots did an emergency landing and evacuated all 129 passengers and eight crew at nearby Takamatsu airport at 08:47. Some passengers sustained minor injuries.

Nippon has grounded all 17 of its Dreamliners and Japan Airlines says it will ground all of its seven Dreamliners from the 16 January.

Has the Dreamliner model been involved in any other concerning incidences?

There have been six other reported incidences involving Japanese owned Boeing 787 Dreamliners in the last ten days.

Last week, the US Federal Aviation Administration started a joint review with Boeing of the design, manufacturing and assembly of the Dreamliner.

Then on Tuesday, Japanese authorities said they would conduct an inquiry after two fuel leaks on different 787 operated by Japan Airlines.

What are the wider implications of these reported problems?

The Dreamliner, as Boeing’s flagship new airline, has attracted orders from many worldwide well-known airlines which may now be concerned.

India Airways and United Airlines in the only US deploys Dreamliners but have no plans to take them out of operation.

Qantas also said its order of 15 Dreamliners is on track.

Depending on the outcome of the two inquires by the US and Japan the Boeing 787 Dreamliners may need to undergo re-engineering and be grounded indefinitely.

What have officials said?

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): "The FAA is monitoring a preliminary report of an incident in Japan earlier today involving a Boeing 787. The incident will be included in the comprehensive review the FAA began last week of the 787 critical systems, including design, manufacture and assembly."

What are the experts saying?

"You're nearing the tipping point where they need to regard this as a serious crisis," said Richard Aboulafia, a senior analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia told the BBC.

"This is going to change people's perception of the aircraft if they don't act quickly."

Chris de Lavigne of Frost and Sullivan in Singapore disagreed and told the BBC that this isn’t that unusual:  "It is not abnormal for new aircraft to have some teething problems."

Adding: “There were initial issues with the Airbus A380 as well. Look where it is today; it is flying successfully and everyone seems to be happy with it."

 

A dreamliner. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.