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Boeing calls FAA meeting productive; proposing long-term fix for 787 batteries

The Boeing Co. 787

The Boeing Co. 787

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Updated: March 24, 2013 6:08AM

WASHINGTON — Congressional officials say Boeing is proposing a long-term fix for the 787 Dreamliner’s troubled batteries that won’t have the planes back in the air until April at the earliest.

A Reuters newswire story quoted three unnamed sources saying Boeing is proposing extra insulation be put between the cells of the airplane’s lithium-ion batteries, and that a stainless steel box with a venting tube be installed to stop the spread of any future battery fire.

Boeing issued a statement at 2:36 p.m. Friday, saying its commercial airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner held “a productive meeting” earlier in the day with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta.

The FAA followed with its own statement 30 minutes later, saying “the FAA is reviewing a Boeing proposal and will analyze it closely.”

“The safety of the flying public is our top priority and we won’t allow the 787 to return to commercial service until we’re confident that any proposed solution has addressed the battery failure risks,” the FAA statement continued.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency could not comment further.

Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said Boeing would have no further public statements about the meeting.

In its statement, Boeing said it is “encouraged by the progress being made toward resolving the issue and returning the 787 to flight for our customers and their passengers around the world.”

“Boeing has drawn upon resources from across the company and externally, pulling together teams of hundreds of experts and working this issue around the clock for the past several weeks,” the company said. “As a company, our highest priority is the safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard our products each and every day. We are committed to taking every necessary step to assure our customers and the traveling public of the integrity of the 787, and won’t hesitate in our efforts to continually improve the safety and reliability of our products.”

The Congressional officials say Boeing’s plan will require some testing and safety recertification of the plane’s lithium ion batteries, but not a complete recertification. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

It’s up to Huerta to decide whether to approve the plan. But the officials say Boeing’s plan is not a surprise, since the company has kept regulators closely informed, the officials said.

In other 787 developments, Japanese investigators have identified the causes of fuel leaks and other problems with the plane but are still investigating the more serious battery problem that forced an emergency landing in January and the worldwide grounding of the jets.

An oil leak was caused by an improper paint job that led to a switch not working properly, while inadequate taping led to cracks in cockpit glass, and a faulty part led to braking problems, according to the Transport Ministry’s investigation released Friday into problems that occurred with the 787 Dreamliner in January.

The government issued orders to fix the problems with 787s operated by Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, the country’s two major carriers and the biggest customers for Boeing Co.’s new jet.

All 50 of the 787 jets in service around the world have been grounded for more than a month after a lithium-ion battery in a 787 operated by ANA overheated Jan. 16, forcing an emergency landing in western Japan. Earlier in January, a lithium-ion battery caught fire in a Japan Airlines 787 parked in Boston.

Regulators in the U.S. and Japan along with Boeing launched investigations last month. But Friday’s findings shed little light on the battery problem.

The 787 is the first jet to extensively use lithium-ion batteries, which weigh less, charge faster and are more powerful than other kinds of batteries. Japanese manufacturer GS Yuasa makes the batteries for Boeing.

—Contributing: AP, Sandra Guy, Francine Knowles

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