FAA to lift grounding order on 787s as revamped batteries are installed

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Posted: Saturday, April 20, 2013 12:00 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal officials intend to lift the order grounding the beleaguered 787 Dreamliner after accepting Boeing's revamped battery system even though the root cause of battery failures that led to a fire on one plane and smoke on another remains unknown.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it would send airlines instructions and publish a notice next week lifting the three-month-old grounding order that day. Boeing will then have the go-ahead to begin retrofitting planes with an enhanced lithium ion battery system.

Dreamliner flights could resume within a week, the agency told members of Congress. Boeing said it has stationed teams around the world to begin installing the fix.

The FAA gave Boeing permission last month to test the revamped system, which includes additional insulation around each of the battery's eight cells to prevent a short circuit or fire in one of the cells from spreading to the others. The new system also includes enhanced venting of smoke and gas from inside the battery to outside the plane. A strengthened box to hold the battery is an effort to ensure that if a fire were to occur, it wouldn't escape to the rest of the plane.

Boeing has completed 20 separate tests of the new system, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told Congress earlier this week.

Boeing had delivered 50 planes to eight airlines in seven countries when a fire erupted in a battery aboard a Japan Airlines 787 at Boston's Logan International Airport on Jan. 7. The FAA and other authorities grounded the entire fleet after a second incident nine days later led to an emergency landing by an All Nippon Airways 787 in Japan.

Boeing said new batteries and kits with the parts for the new battery systems are ready to be shipped immediately. The 787s will get the fix in approximately the order they were delivered, Boeing said.

“The Boeing team is ready to help get our customers' 787s back in the air where they belong,” said Ray Conner, who runs Boeing Co.'s commercial airplane division.

The grounding also halted 787 deliveries. They were expected to resume “in the weeks ahead,” after it installs the changes on planes at the two factories where they're assembled, Boeing said. It still expects to hit its target of delivering at least 60 787s this year, and that the battery issue “will have no significant impact” on its financial guidance for the year, the company said.

The FAA's action directly affects United Airlines, which is the only U.S. airline with 787s in its fleet. But aviation authorities in other countries are expected to follow suit swiftly.

United Airlines already has domestic 787 flights scheduled for May 31. Spokeswoman Christen David said no other schedule changes have been made yet.

“We are mapping out a return-to-service plan, and we look forward to getting our 787s back in the air,” she said by email.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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