Boeing to Resume 787’s Test Flights Today After Fire

Boeing to Resume 787’s Test Flights Today After Fire
A Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner jet (ZA004) prepares to take off from Paine Field in Everett, Washington. Photographer: Kevin P. Casey/Bloomberg

Boeing Co. said one of its 787 Dreamliner test jets will be allowed to resume limited flights today after an electrical fire grounded the fleet and added to delays for a plane already running three years behind schedule.

The 787s will fly for the company’s purposes only, with efforts toward certification by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to be restarted later, Chicago-based Boeing said today in a statement.

Flights by the six test aircraft were suspended after an electrical fire broke out Nov. 9 in a 787’s power panel and knocked out some controls, forcing an emergency landing in Laredo, Texas. The Dreamliner’s scheduled entry into commercial service has been postponed six times and was targeted for the first quarter of 2011 before the blaze.

“As we return to flight test and determine the pace of that activity, we remain focused on developing a new program schedule,” Scott Fancher, the 787 program chief, said in the statement. “We expect to complete our assessment of the program schedule in January.”

The 787 is the first airliner made of composite plastics instead of the traditional aluminum. Boeing has been struggling with the new carbon-fiber materials, parts shortages, redesign work and a greater reliance on suppliers. Test flights for FAA approval to carry passengers began in December 2009.

Software Redesign

Since last month’s blaze, engineers have redesigned part of the software for the 787’s electrical system to improve power distribution and altered the panels where the fire started. Boeing said last month that the incident probably was caused by “foreign debris,” producing a short circuit or electrical arc.

Engineers from Boeing and United Technologies Corp.’s Hamilton Sundstrand unit, which makes the power panels, completed testing of the interim software updates this week, Boeing said.

Today’s flight was scheduled to lift off from Paine Field in Everett, Washington, next to the factory where Boeing builds wide-body jets, and involve aircraft No. 4 in the test fleet. The Texas fire was on plane No. 2.

Boeing said today’s crew would deploy the wind-driven turbine that is designed to drop automatically from the jet’s belly in an emergency and generate backup power, as occurred after last month’s fire. The Dreamliner uses five times as much electricity as traditional airliners.

No Holiday Break

The 787 program will remain in operation while the rest of the company shuts down starting tomorrow for a holiday break until Jan. 4.

Boeing rose 45 cents to $65.06 at 4:01 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have fallen 6.1 percent since Nov. 9, compared with a 3.6 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

The Dreamliner jets have been parked in and around Seattle, home to Boeing’s commercial-aircraft headquarters, where they have been undergoing maintenance and ground tests while awaiting FAA approval to resume flights.

John Hickey, the agency’s deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, met with Boeing executives in Seattle this month to discuss the 787’s engine and electrical-system reliability, said Yvonne Leach, a Boeing spokeswoman. She said the talks centered on certification for the long-haul, trans-oceanic flights for which the jet was marketed.

“We are confident we will work through any issues or concerns that the FAA has in a cooperative and constructive manner,” Leach said yesterday.

The test jets fly around the world in search of various weather conditions for tests required by the FAA. With 847 advance orders, the 250-seat Dreamliner, which has an average list price of $202 million, is Boeing’s best-selling new aircraft.

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