Boeing Said to Plan New 787 Battery So Jet Can Fly Soon

Boeing Co. will present a battery redesign for the 787 Dreamliner tomorrow in a bid to satisfy regulators’ safety concerns and get the jet back into the air within weeks, people with knowledge of the proposal said.

The plan includes adding insulation around the lithium-ion battery’s individual cells, said the people, who weren’t authorized to discuss the matter and asked not to be identified. The battery will also have a venting mechanism for fumes and a more robust case made with heat-resistant glass to contain fires, the people said.

Boeing is developing kits so the new batteries can be swapped in for the old ones, fitting in the same space in the planes, the people said. The new units may also have a system that lets pilots monitor individual battery cells, they said.

A team led by Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner is scheduled to meet in Washington with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, including Administrator Michael Huerta, the people said. Any repairs would be subject to FAA approval, and the agency isn’t expected to act immediately unless tests show the fixes can ensure safety, the people said.

The 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.

Marc Birtel, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, declined to say whether a meeting has been scheduled with the FAA or to comment on the company’s plans.

‘Close Communication’

“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.”

United Continental Holdings Inc. signaled today that it expects a lengthier process than Boeing’s goal of getting the Dreamliner back into service in March, saying that it’s removing the model from its flight schedule through June 5. Chicago-based United is the only U.S. carrier with 787s in its fleet.

The FAA grounded the Dreamliner on Jan. 16 following a fire on a Japan Airlines Co. 787 parked in Boston the week before and a battery fault that triggered an emergency landing in Japan by an All Nippon Airways Co. jet.

Boeing rose 1.6 percent to $76.01 at the close in New York. That pared the stock’s decline to 2.2 percent since Jan. 4, the last trading day before the fire on the Japan Airlines plane. GS Yuasa Corp., the battery maker, jumped 8 percent to 352 yen in Tokyo in the biggest gain since November 2011.

Dreamliner Deliveries

Ending the grounding is pivotal for Boeing and the airlines that have taken delivery of the first 49 planes. Boeing wants to resume shipments of more than 800 Dreamliners still on order, and restarting flights would let carriers end the aircraft shuffle used to replace their parked 787s.

Boeing will propose a more fire-resistant box to house the eight lithium-ion cells in each of the 787’s two batteries, the people said. Boeing engineers also want to use a tubing system to vent battery fumes or smoke, they said.

One of the two batteries on each Dreamliner is used to start the auxiliary power unit if the jet is on the ground without a power source, and another provides a backup in case the 787’s electrical system fails during flight.

The Dreamliner, which entered service in late 2011, helps conserve fuel by replacing the pneumatic system with electricity. The aircraft uses five times as much electrical power as the 767, enough to light 400 homes. It’s the only airliner equipped with large lithium-ion batteries.

Satellite Engineers

Boeing’s satellite business, which has long used lithium-ion batteries, has sent 20 of its top engineers to assist with the 787 work, Boeing Defense President Dennis Muilenburg said today in a presentation at a Barclays Plc conference. All of Boeing’s operations have deployed their best engineers and “made assets available” to the commercial-jet team, he said.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board concluded that a short-circuit in a battery cell led to the Jan. 7 fire in Boston, which spread to other cells. The reason for the short hasn’t been identified, NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman said Jan. 24.

All eight of the battery cells on the ANA Dreamliner sustained thermal damage, Japan Transport Safety Board chief Norihiro Goto said yesterday. Damage to the electrodes may have been caused by overheating from thermal runaway within the cell. He said further investigation is needed.

The FAA 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 be allowed to damage critical equipment or the aircraft’s structure.

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