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Boeing: 787 flights could restart in weeks, Only one test flight planned

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President CEO Ray Conner speaks during news conference Tokyo Friday March 15 2013. Boeing executives said commercial

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner speaks during a news conference in Tokyo, Friday, March 15, 2013. Boeing executives said commercial flights of its grounded 787 jets will resume "within weeks, not months" with a third of safety tests already completed. They said Friday they had not pinpointed the causes of the two battery problems that resulted in the global grounding of the technologically advanced Dreamliner planes. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

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Updated: March 15, 2013 12:16PM

Chicago-based Boeing Co. plans to conduct only one flight test of its redesigned 787 lithium-ion battery system, along with testing that will be done on the ground, and new procedures and changes Boeing is making means an undisclosed number of batteries on the existing grounded fleet will be rejected.

Those details were released Friday by Ron Hinderberger, Boeing Vice President, 787-8 Engineering in a press call to discuss the 787.

Hinderberger said Boeing is confident one in-flight test will be sufficient.

“The reason why we are confident with a plan that has one flight test is because of the complexity and the amount of detail that we put into our lab testing, which is also certification tests,” he said. “In our lab, we are actually able to not only simulate the airplane environment, but we are able to do so with a much greater degree of instrumentation and monitoring than we could on the airplane. That combined with the fact that the battery really doesn’t provide much from a functionality standpoint in flight led us and the FAA {Federal Aviation Administration} confidently conclude that the single flight test was appropriate for demonstrating compliance to this change.”

Hinderberger made the comments hours after Boeing Chief Project Engineer Michael Sinnett told journalists in Japan the company sees commercial flights of its grounded 787 jets resuming “within weeks” even though it has not pinpointed the cause of battery overheating.

A Japan regulator responded by saying it was inappropriate to suggest such a timetable.

Sinnett outlined a fix centered on a new design for the lithium-ion battery system that has many layers of safeguards to prevent overheating. It also has measures to contain any problems if malfunctions do occur.

“We could be back up and going in weeks and not months,” Sinnett told reporters at a Tokyo hotel.

The 787 fleet was grounded worldwide by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, its counterparts in Japan and other nations in January, following a battery fire in a Dreamliner parked in Boston and an overheated battery that led to an emergency landing of another 787 in Japan.

All Nippon Airways, a major Japanese carrier, was the launch customer for the technologically advanced Dreamliner planes. With Japan Airlines another customer, about half the 787 jets in use were with Japanese carriers.

The Boeing executives sought to allay flier fears about the 787 by repeatedly stressing their commitment to safety.

They said it would take too long to figure out what had specifically caused the problems in Boston and southwestern Japan but the new design would ensure 787s are safe.

Boeing came up with 80 possible causes for the battery problems, categorized them into four groups, and came up with design adjustments such as better insulation between each battery cell so any malfunctions won’t spread. That was to allow the 787 to be back in the air more promptly, they said.

There were also changes to wiring for the battery, aimed at preventing overheating, and a new enclosure for the battery that would eliminate fire risk.

While executives acknowledged that final approval would have to come from the FAA, and didn’t rule out further delays to ensure safety, they said they were in close contact with the FAA and didn’t foresee any long delays.

“It’s a safe airplane. We have no concerns at all about that,” Sinnett said.

Boeing Executive Vice President Ray Conner also offered his apologies to the Japanese people for the problems.

“We do apologize for this situation,” Conner said. He said he was in Japan to meet with aviation authorities and airlines, and the company had picked Japan as the place to outline the battery fix.

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