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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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.