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Mixed Signals on Quick Fix for Boeing’s 787

According to a Reuters report, a senior Boeing executive expressed confidence that proposed changes to the 787 Dreamliner are the “permanent solution” the company has been seeking to the battery fires in January that led to the plane’s worldwide grounding by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other countries’ aviation regulators.

No details were given as to the problem’s root cause, which has proven elusive, or the definitive fix.

Over the weekend, Boeing operated a FAA-sanctioned 787 test flight, during which special equipment was used to monitor and record the batteries’ performance. The flight was described as “uneventful.”

More test flights are planned for “early this coming week,” according to Boeing.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board last week released a report suggesting that investigators are far from a full understanding of the problems affecting the plane’s lithium-ion batteries.

Underscoring just how serious the NTSB considers the problems, the agency has scheduled public meetings in April on the design and certification process of the 787’s batteries in particular, and on lithium-ion battery technology in general.

Having failed to identify the plane’s battery issues during the certification process, the FAA and the NTSB have made it clear that they now intend to err on the side of safety. Which means it will take more than happy talk from Boeing to get the Dreamliner back into service.

Dreamliner Issues

The list of 787-related incidents and regulatory responses now includes the following:

  • On February 9 and 11, Boeing completed two test flights, using one of six 787 test planes specially fitted with electronic tools to monitor and diagnose battery-related issues. Both flights were “uneventful.”
  • On January 16, the FAA ordered all U.S. Dreamliners grounded until the safety issued could be sorted out. The move prompted a worldwide grounding.
  • On January 15, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines suspended all 787 flights following a battery malfunction that resulted in an emergency landing.
  • At least partly in response to the service suspensions by Japanese carriers, Qatar Airways canceled a scheduled 787 flight from London to Doha.
  • On January 13, a fuel leak was discovered on a Japan Airlines 787 at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.
  • On January 11, the FAA announced that it would subject the 787 Dreamliner to an unusual post-launch “review.”
  • On January 7, a fire broke out on a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston.
  • A fire similar to the one in Boston had been reported during the 787’s testing phase in 2010.
  • In December, an electrical malfunction forced a United Airlines 787 to make an emergency landing.
  • Later that same month, United reported that the same issue had been discovered on a second Dreamliner.
  • Also in December, Qatar Airlines grounded one of its 787s because of electrical issues.
  • On December 5, the FAA ordered inspections of potential fuel-line leaks on all 787s.

About the 787 Dreamliner

The Dreamliner is Boeing’s most advanced airliner, featuring such cutting-edge technology as lithium-ion batteries and a composite-plastic body.

The first 787 was received by ANA in September 2011, and since then 50 787s have been delivered to eight airline customers, including United.

The company has taken orders for 844 Dreamliners, and Boeing hopes to sell as many as 5,000 during the lifetime of the plane.

Reader Reality Check

Are the 787’s problems of concern to you? Would you fly on one anyway?

This article originally appeared

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