Boeing Co. (BA:US)’s grounded 787 Dreamliner will fly today for the first time in three weeks after U.S. officials approved a one-time permit to ferry a plane to Washington state from Texas.
The trip isn’t a commercial flight, and the only people aboard will be those needed for operation, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. The plane must fly directly to Boeing’s widebody-jet plant in Everett, just north of Seattle, from Fort Worth, where it was being painted for China Southern Airlines.
Investigators are still “weeks away” from determining what caused battery failures on the 787, the head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday. The jets have been grounded since Jan. 16 after a fire on one and an emergency landing by another, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declined to give a timetable yesterday for deciding on Boeing’s request to resume test flights.
“There is an increasing concern that this could take longer than earlier anticipated,” said Michel Merluzeau, a consultant with G2 Solutions in Kirkland, Washington.
“Boeing’s proposed solution to build a containment around the battery should certainly help, and adds an extra layer of safety in the unlikely event of another battery malfunction,” he said. “It however is only part of the solution which should include permanently resolving the root cause of the problems experienced by the 787 electrical system.”
For today’s ferry flight, the crew will have to perform “a number of inspections to verify that the batteries and cables show no signs of damage,” the FAA said. They will also be required to check for specific status messages that could indicate problems, both before and during the flight, and will have to land immediately if one occurs, the agency said.
“While our work to determine the cause of the recent battery incidents continues in coordination with appropriate regulatory authorities and investigation agencies, we are confident - as is the FAA - that the 787 is safe to operate for this activity,” said Marc Birtel, a spokesman at Boeing’s commercial headquarters in Seattle. “Safety of the crew on board is our top priority.”
The grounding order won’t be lifted until the plane is proven to be safe, the FAA has said. Boeing has said it has hundreds of engineers working around the clock to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co. -- the first customer for the Dreamliner and the largest operator of the plane so far -- said today it canceled all domestic and international flights scheduled to use the new model through March 30. That means 1,887 flights are being canceled between the Jan. 16 grounding and March 30, affecting more than 126,000 thousand passengers, the Tokyo-based carrier said.
Investigators are looking at each of the cells used in the 787’s lithium-ion battery, the three windings in each of the cells and the component parts, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said yesterday. That includes tests on examples of the batteries used in the jet.
The safety board is looking at “the macro level to the microscopic level on this battery,” Hersman said. The board has evidence of short circuits in cells of the battery, “thermal runaway” and an uncontrolled chain reaction, she said.
“Those features are not what we would have expected to see in a brand-new battery on a brand-new airplane,” Hersman said. “We want to make sure the design is robust and the oversight of the manufacturing process is adequate.”
Boeing said last week it’s continuing to produce 787s at a rate of five a month, ramping up to 10 a month by year-end, and is still working on the development of two bigger versions of the jet.
The plane is the world’s first composite-plastic airliner and the first to use new electrical systems to help save on fuel. It was three and a half years behind when it entered service with ANA in late 2011, after Boeing struggled with the new materials and manufacturing processes. The company has delivered 50 of the planes so far to eight airlines around the world and has orders for another 800.
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