United restarts 787 flights after grounding

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm •  Published: May 20, 2013
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United Airlines put its 787 back in the air on Monday, with both the airline and Boeing hoping to put the plane's four-month grounding behind them.

The flight from Houston to Chicago was just the kind of 787 flight that airlines are hoping for: uneventful.

Smoldering batteries on two 787s owned by other airlines prompted authorities to ground the planes in January. The failure of Boeing's newest, flashiest and most important plane embarrassed the company and its customers.

Both United CEO Jeff Smisek and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney were on board Monday's flight, and United promoted the plane's return to service.

Said Smisek, "I'll tell you, Jim, it was a fairly expensive piece of sculpture to have on the ground so we're really delighted to have it up and flying."

United is the only U.S. airline currently flying the 787.

The airline, based in Chicago, said it will use 787s on shorter domestic flights before resuming international flying June 10 with new Denver-to-Tokyo service as well as temporary Houston-to-London flights. It's adding flights to Tokyo, Shanghai, and Lagos, Nigeria, in August.

Those long international flights are the main reason the 787 exists. Its medium size and fuel efficiency are a good fit for long routes. Starting with shorter domestic flights "will give us a period to ramp up full 787 operations," United spokeswoman Christen David said.

Four of its six 787s have been fixed, and United said the other two will get the battery modification in coming days.

Airlines including Japan Airlines and South America's LATAM Airlines Group, said profit took a hit because of the grounding. LATAM said it still had to make payments on the plane and pay for crews and maintenance. It expects to resume flying soon.

United was forced to delay planned international flights, and the grounding reduced first-quarter earnings by $11 million.

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