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Boeing plans only one 787 test flight

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 a spokesman said Boeing’s expectations are that with the new system it would not see a battery cell “fail and vent any gases with any greater frequency than one in 10 million flight hours.”

That was the expectation for the original design, which proved wrong, leading to the grounding of the planes.

“The probability of single or multiple cell failure in the redesigned battery is extremely small and far less likely than with the current system,” spokesman Tim Neale said.

He also reiterated Boeing’s earlier assertions that if battery cells fail, with the new system “the containment features would make it a nonevent for the passengers and flight crew. There would be no fire and any fumes that came off the battery would be safely vented overboard outside of the airplane.”

Boeing provided details on its efforts to get the grounded fleet of 787s back in the air during press calls Friday.

The company said it is confident one planned flight test of the redesigned battery system will be sufficient “because of the complexity and the amount of detail that we put into our lab testing, which is also certification tests,” Ron Hinderberger, Boeing Vice President, 787-8 Engineering, 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} to 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.

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

Regulators in Japan responded by saying it was inappropriate to suggest such a timetable.

Hinderberger said three tests already have been completed, “and there are three other tests that are currently being run as I speak. We would like to complete those tests as soon as possible and complete the flight testing as soon as possible. We would anticipate that completion should be done within the next week or two.”

That would leave the final review and approval up to the FAA. Hinderberger said it would be inappropriate for him to speculate on the amount of time it would take agency to review and approve the test results.

“That said, the FAA has been very involved with us and will be very involved with us going forward, and I would expect their involvement along the way should result in a timely approval once we’ve successfully completed all the tests,” he said.

The 787 fleet was grounded by regulators 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.

Sinnett said the battery fix has many layers of safeguards to prevent overheating.

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 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.

Contributing: AP

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