Boeing Co. officials are preparing proposed fixes to ensure that the 787 Dreamliner’s battery won’t damage the plane or emit smoke as they work to end the jet’s grounding, people with knowledge of the talks said.
A Boeing team is scheduled to meet tomorrow in Washington with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, said the people, who weren’t authorized to discuss the session and asked not to be identified. The plan includes a harder battery case and a venting mechanism for fumes, one person said.
Any repairs would be subject to FAA approval, and agency Administrator Michael Huerta is to participate in tomorrow’s meeting, the person said. The FAA isn’t expected to act immediately unless tests show the fixes can ensure safety, the person said. Battery changes also would need the backing of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has said the 787 won’t fly again until the U.S. is “1,000 percent sure” it’s safe.
Ending the grounding is pivotal for Boeing and the airlines that have taken delivery of the first 49 planes. Boeing wants to be able to resume shipments of new 787s, and restarting flights would let carriers end the aircraft shuffle used to replace their Dreamliners since they were ordered parked on Jan. 16.
Marc Birtel, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, declined yesterday to say whether a meeting has been scheduled with the FAA.
“We have been in close communication with the regulatory and investigative authorities since the 787 issue arose,” he said. “Everyone is working to get to the answer as quickly as possible and good progress is being made.”
Boeing’s proposal will include a more fire-resistant box housing the eight lithium-ion cells in each of the 787’s two batteries, said the person with knowledge of the matter. Boeing engineers also want to create a tubing system to vent battery fumes or smoke in case of an incident, the person said.
The measures are being proposed while Boeing works on a redesign of the batteries, the person said. The batteries are made by Kyoto-based GS Yuasa Corp.
The Boeing team is being led by Ray Conner, chief executive officer of its commercial airplanes division, who will make the presentation himself to the FAA tomorrow, one of the people said.
Boeing technical workers have been assigned to build the proposed containment vessels, a union official said. That effort risks being delayed after the employees rejected a new contract Feb. 19 and authorized the union to call a strike at any time amid ongoing negotiations, said Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.
Boeing rose 0.2 percent to $74.78 at the close yesterday in New York. That pared the shares’ decline to 0.8 percent this year, compared with a 6 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. Shares of Yuasa rose as much as 8.6 percent in early trading today in Tokyo, the biggest gain since November 2011.
The 787, the only airliner equipped with large lithium-ion batteries, boosts efficiency by relying more heavily on electricity for on-board systems than conventional jets. The FAA’s grounding followed a fire on a 787 parked in Boston and a battery fault that triggered an emergency landing in Japan.
The regulator approved Boeing’s battery in 2007 under “special conditions” prohibiting hazardous gas from accumulating in the plane if a battery overheated or caught fire. It also said a fire couldn’t damage critical equipment or the aircraft’s structure.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has concluded a short-circuit in a battery cell on a Japan Airlines Co. 787 on the ground in Boston led to the Jan. 7 fire, which spread to other cells. The reason for the short hasn’t been identified, NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman said Jan. 24.
A battery aboard an All Nippon Airways Co. 787 on Jan. 16 smoldered and smoked, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing.