Boeing Co. (BA:US)’s completion of a final test flight for its 787 Dreamliner sets the stage for a regulatory review of battery upgrades that will determine whether the grounded jet can re-enter commercial service.
“The purpose of the flight was to demonstrate that the new battery system performs as intended during normal and non-normal flight conditions,” Chicago-based Boeing said in a statement yesterday. The planemaker said it will analyze flight data and submit the required materials to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration “in the coming days.”
The agency must decide whether the redesigned lithium-ion batteries are safe after electrical failures on a Japan Airlines Co. (9201) plane in Boston and during an All Nippon Airways Co. (9202) flight in Japan. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declined to say yesterday when he will decide whether to end the grounding.
“I know you wanted something more definitive,” LaHood said after speaking at a conference in Washington sponsored by the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. “So does Boeing.”
Boeing must convince regulators the Dreamliner and its battery upgrade are safe before flights can resume, LaHood said. The concept for the fix on which the FAA signed off in March “was a good plan,” and regulators are now waiting to see the results, he said.
Yesterday’s Dreamliner flight lasted 1 hour, 49 minutes after takeoff from Paine Field in Everett, Washington. Two FAA officials were aboard the 787, a LOT Polish Airlines SA plane that has made three unrelated check flights with the new system since March 25, according to Boeing.
The planemaker’s shares reversed an earlier decline yesterday, rising 1.4 percent to $86.17 at the close in New York. That pushed the stock’s gain to 14 percent this year.
Boeing’s ground tests included overheating the system to evaluate a stainless-steel enclosure designed to eliminate the possibility of fire and a tube that would vent any liquid or vapors outside the plane. The design also increases the spacing and insulation for the power cells to prevent the spread of any overheating and includes new circuitry for the battery chargers.
The batteries are made by GS Yuasa Corp. (6674), based in Kyoto, Japan. Boeing has sent engineers to the country, home to the biggest 787 fleets, to get ready to install the upgraded units, according to Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman. That work takes four to five days to complete on each plane.
If the FAA approves the changes and returns the 787 to commercial duty, Boeing has said it will make the battery upgrades to aircraft in roughly the order that they were delivered to customers. All Nippon and Japan Airlines were the first two customers and operate 24 of the 49 jets in service.
The Japan Transport Safety Board will conduct ground tests on the ANA 787 next week, Masahiro Kudo, an accident investigator for the agency, told reporters in Tokyo.
While a cause for the Dreamliner battery malfunctions hasn’t been determined, Boeing said during a March 15 presentation that the changes to the design will ensure safe operations.
The 787’s grounding forced airlines to shuffle schedules to plug gaps from the plane’s sudden absence. Boeing has halted deliveries until commercial service resumes and may face financial penalties from customers.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has scheduled a two-day investigative hearing beginning April 23 to discuss the batteries’ design, testing and original certification.
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