Ethiopian Airlines first to get Dreamliner back in the skies

ADDIS ABABA — An Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner jet took off on a commercial flight Saturday, becoming the first carrier to resume flying the Boeing 787 aircraft that were grounded worldwide three months ago due to battery problems.

By Jenny Vaughan (AFP)

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Published: Sun 28 Apr 2013, 11:01 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 3:02 AM

The flight took off from Addis Ababa and headed to Nairobi, according to an AFP journalist.

“I am very happy to see the airplane is back to the air now and I am very happy also we are the first one,” Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told journalists ahead of take off.

Ethiopian Airlines has four Dreamliners, which Gebremariam said would all resume service in the coming weeks after being retrofitted with new batteries.

“This is the first airplane which has completed the work,” he told reporters, adding that work has started on the company’s other three 787s. Each of the aircraft are set to receive a new battery, which is encased, allowing the plane to continue flying in the event of a malfunction.

“We’ve fixed the battery, we’ve now contained the battery, so for some chance that there is a failure with the battery, it’s contained, it’s isolated, the airplane will be able to continue flying,” Boeing’s vice-president of marketing for commercial airplanes, Randy Tinseth, told AFP at the airport.

Despite the previous safety scares with the aircraft, he said customers have no reason to feel nervous about flying the Dreamliner.

“I can’t wait to get back on the aircraft, and I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my family on it,” he said.

The three-month grounding of the 50-strong fleet has not translated to major financial losses for the US-based Boeing. On Wednesday, the company reported a 20 per cent year-on-year jump in first-quarter profit.

The 787 was to head back to Addis Ababa — some 1,160km or 720 miles from the Kenyan capital — later on Saturday, airline officials said.

Passenger Francois Vaillancourt told AFP he was “not at all” nervous about flying on the first commercial flight since the fleet was grounded.

“Airlines are safest after they’ve had a problem, so they fixed it and it is probably three times as safe as it was before,” he said.

Ethiopian is the first African carrier to operate the Dreamliner. It has six more on order from Boeing, and the full fleet is expected to arrive by the end of 2014.

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