Boeing Co. (BA) plans a final 787 test flight in “coming days” after taking the grounded Dreamliner aloft yesterday to evaluate fixes to lithium-ion batteries that overheated on two aircraft earlier this year.
If the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approves the changes and allows the airplane to resume commercial flights, Chicago-based Boeing would make the battery upgrades to aircraft in roughly the order that they were delivered to customers, said Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman. That would put All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. first in line.
The two carriers, which together own about half of the 49 Dreamliners in operation, have been forced along with other customers to juggle schedules and shift planes since the FAA sidelined the jet in January. Boeing, which has a backlog of more than 800 Dreamliners with a list price starting at about $207 million, has halted deliveries until commercial service resumes.
After analyzing data from the March 25 flight, Boeing will perform ground testing followed by one certification demonstration flight. The Chicago-based company then will submit the new battery system to the FAA for approval, Birtel said in an interview.
Yesterday’s 787 flight lasted a little more than two hours after taking off at 12:11 p.m. local time from Paine Field in Everett, Washington, with a crew of six. Birtel declined to give more information on the timing of the next flight.
Although a cause for the lithium-ion battery malfunctions hasn’t been determined, Boeing said during a March 15 presentation that the changes to the design and added safeguards, such as a new enclosure and a vent line, will ensure safety.
The 787’s batteries are mostly used for ground operations, such as starting auxiliary power units and providing brake power when the plane is in tow, and are not flight critical, Boeing has said.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board began looking at the batteries after one caught fire on a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston’s airport on Jan. 7. A little more than a week later, a battery on an All Nippon Airways flight began smoldering and spewing smoke in Japan, prompting an emergency landing and the FAA’s decision to halt commercial service.
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