United Airlines returned its Dreamliner aircraft to commercial service on Monday after the plane was grounded in January over safety issues regarding on-board batteries. United is the only US airline to operate Boeing’s state-of-the-art 787 plane.
The flight, dubbed United Flight 1, took off from Houston Monday morning, arriving without incident in Chicago early afternoon. On board were Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney and chief executive of United Continental Holdings, Jeff Smisek. The airline will operate the plane on shorter domestic routes before returning it to international service next month.
Aviation authorities gave the Dreamliner clearance to fly in April, with airlines such as Qatar Airways and Air India having already returned the plane to service. All Nippon Airways, operator of the largest fleet of Dreamliners with 17 aircraft, has yet to return the plane to the skies though this is expected to happen soon.
The Dreamliner, which is the most technologically advanced aircraft Boeing has ever made, was grounded by airlines around the world in January following a number of serious incidents, one of which forced an ANA pilot in Japan to make an emergency landing. Another 787 caught fire on the ground at Boston Logan International Airport. No one was seriously hurt in any of the incidents, though the situation was serious enough for the aircraft to be taken out of service while safety engineers investigated the issue, now believed to be caused by faulty on-board lithium-ion batteries.
Monday’s successful flight is an important step in Boeing’s attempt to restore the reputation of an aircraft that has had something of a troubled time since first entering commercial service in 2011. Many observers have put the Dreamliner’s troubles down to birth pains similar to those suffered by many new aircraft entering service for the first time, with the technological leap made with the design of the 787 causing more teething problems than usual.
The Dreamliner has been lauded for its revolutionary design and green credentials. Its super-efficient engines and light yet strong carbon fiber frame mean the plane uses significantly less fuel than other similarly sized planes currently in operation.