The FAA has approved battery system improvements for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, clearing the way for the grounded fleet to resume commercial flights in about a week.
The fuel-efficient Dreamliner has been grounded since January following a lithium-ion battery fire on a Japan Airlines plane in Boston and an emergency landing by an All Nippon Airways jet in Japan, prompting the FAA to issue a global alert. Governments in the US, Japan, India and Europe all grounded the planes.
Boeing says the FAA approval will permit the return to service of 787s in the US upon installation of the improvements. For 787s based and modified outside the United States, local regulatory authorities provide the final approval on return to service.
The improved battery system includes design changes to both prevent and isolate a fault should it occur, Boeing says. In addition, improved production, operating and testing processes have been implemented. The new steel enclosure system is designed to keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or even being noticed by passengers.
Boeing began testing improvements to the 787 Dreamliner’s battery system in March. The company says it spent more than 100,000 hours developing test plans, building test rigs, conducting tests and analyzing the results.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Japan Transport Safety Board have not identified what caused the 787 batteries to overheat.
Boeing has deployed teams around the world to begin installing improved battery systems on 787s. Kits with the parts needed for the new battery systems are staged for shipment and new batteries also will be shipped immediately, the company says.
Boeing says it will also begin installing the changes on new airplanes at the company’s two 787 final-assembly plants, with deliveries expected to resume in the weeks ahead. Despite the disruption in deliveries that began in January, Boeing says it expects to complete all planned 2013 deliveries by the end of the year. Boeing further expects that the 787 battery issue will have no significant impact to its 2013 financial guidance, the company says.
In February, Boeing informed airlines that further deliveries of the Dreamliner — of which 50 have been delivered to date — could be delayed because of the battery investigation.