Boeing: Dreamliner Return to Air “Will Move Really Fast” Following FAA Approval

By Paul Riegler on 5 March 2013
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Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Dallas/Fort Worth

Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Dallas/Fort Worth

The head of Boeing’s commercial airplane unit, Ray Conner, says that the embattled airplane manufacturer “will move really fast” once the Federal Aviation Administration approves the company’s certification plans to modify the Dreamliner’s lithium-ion batteries and systems relating thereto.

Mr. Conner spoke yesterday at JP Morgan’s aviation, transportation, and defense conference, taking questions from Joseph Nadal, an analyst at the firm.  He began by reminding the audience that the problematic batteries are not used in flight and that they only provide backup functionality, such as providing backup power to the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU) and also commented that his trip to Japan last week to meet with airlines and regulators had left him jetlagged.

Boeing has gone through an exhaustive study and analysis on the battery problem, said Mr. Conner, perhaps compiling as much as 200,000 hours of analysis and testing on what might have gone wrong and how such problems can be prevented going forward.  The solution Boeing has come up with is “very comprehensive,” he added, and provides three layers of protection.

The first step after the certification plan approval would be flight testing and certification of the changes.  Boeing would then modify the 50 Dreamliners that have been grounded since January 16, when a fire in a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston’s Logan International Airport caused JAL and All Nippon Airways to ground their Dreamliners for inspection.  The same day the FAA ordered the grounding of all U.S.-registered Dreamliners and that was tantamount to a worldwide grounding order.

Boeing also has to modify the dozens of parked and undelivered Dreamliners at its facilities as well as make changes to its production lines to accommodate the change in future aircraft.

“We feel very good about this fix,” Mr. Conner said.  “We’ve covered the waterfront, so to speak,” about all the possible causes of the Dreamliner’s battery fires. While he didn’t provide an estimate of the timeline going forward, the proposal was formally submitted to the FAA on February 22 and to Japanese regulators and authorities last week.  “We are addressing everything that could go wrong in the proper manner,” he said.

While Boeing hasn’t provided specifics about the proposed fixes, other reports say that it will increasing the space between cells in the battery, placing the battery itself inside a fire containment box, installing ventilation for any smoke or fumes leave the aircraft, and designing new tools to monitor individual battery cells.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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