Ethiopian Airlines becomes first to resume Dreamliner flights

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

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.

The US Federal Aviation Authority on Thursday issued formal approval of Boeing's 787 battery fix, clearing the way for the troubled aircraft to fly again after the prolonged grounding.

The directive from the FAA to ground the 50 Dreamliners in operation worldwide came after a series of safety scares with the aircraft, including an emergency landing by Japan's All Nippon Airways in January following a battery malfunction.

Ethiopian Airlines has four Dreamliners, which Mr Tewolde 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 VP 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 Company. On Wednesday, Boeing reported a 20 percent year-on-year jump in first-quarter profit.

The 787 will head back to Addis Ababa - some 1160 km 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 Airlines is the first African carrier to operate the Dreamliner.

In addition to the four Dreamliners which were in operation before January, Ethiopian Airlines has six more on order from Boeing. The full fleet is expected to arrive by the end of 2014, including one that will be delivered in June.