Boeing Co. (BA) has sent several teams of engineers to Japan, home to the biggest operators of the grounded 787 Dreamliner, to get ready for battery upgrades as the planemaker escalates efforts to return the jets to service.
Equipping each 787 with new lithium-ion batteries will take four to five days once the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approves the proposed fix, said Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman. He declined to give details on how many people are involved in Japan or the pace of any future repairs.
Japan’s largest carriers, ANA Holdings Inc. (9202) and Japan Airlines Co. (9201), account for almost half of the 49 Dreamliners in service. Quick upgrades may get the jets flying again by June, boosting prospects for Chicago-based Boeing to make up any grounding-delayed deliveries by year’s end, said Michel Merluzeau, a consultant at G2 Solutions in Kirkland, Washington.
“They’re not going to wait for the FAA to give the all- clear,” Merluzeau said. “They should have a pretty good idea of where things are going. They’re ready to go.”
Boeing may fly a 787 carrying FAA officials as soon as today as the agency assesses whether the battery system is safe for commercial duties again after two electrical faults in January, said a person familiar with the planning who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public.
Boeing isn’t discussing the timetable for the certification flight, said Birtel, who is based in the company’s commercial aviation hub in Seattle.
“No work is being done on the battery systems at this time as we are still working through the certification process,” Birtel said in an e-mailed response to questions. That includes ground-based tests of the new battery system. The FAA hasn’t given a schedule for completing its 787 review.
The FAA ordered that Boeing’s marquee jets be parked after a battery caught fire on a JAL Dreamliner in Boston on Jan. 7 and the unit on an ANA (9202) flight smoldered in Japan days later, prompting an emergency landing. That action halted handovers of the 787, the world’s first jetliner built chiefly of composite materials, and sent Boeing rushing to find a work-around.
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 today. Authorities are seeking more battery data from the jet that landed at Takamatsu airport, Kudo said.
The new battery system includes a stainless-steel enclosure, a vent line leading outside the plane, and more spacing and insulation between cells to keep any overheating from spreading.
Boeing has said it will make upgrades in roughly the order that the planes were handed over to customers, which would put ANA and JAL first. ANA has 17 Dreamliners in its fleet, and JAL has seven.
ANA is waiting for Japan Civil Aviation Bureau approval before deciding on when to restart 787 flights, a spokeswoman, Megumi Tezuka, said by telephone. The bureau’s decision is expected after the FAA acts, she said. A JAL spokesman, Jian Yang, declined to comment on when 787 service would resume.
‘Ready to Go’
“This will move really fast in terms of being able to get the airplanes back into the air” after FAA approval, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner said at a conference last month. “We will then work with the local authorities, work with the airlines and those kinds of things, but we are prepared, we’re ready to go.”
While the FAA hasn’t said when the 787 can return to service, Boeing said testing on the battery fix is more than half-complete and it will submit the proposal after ground tests and the certification flight.
When that flight occurs, Boeing will use a Dreamliner built for LOT Polish Airlines SA, Birtel said. Since March 25, that plane has made three check flights while equipped with the new battery system. Those flights went as planned, Boeing said.
Reuters reported yesterday on the possible 787 certification flight today.