Dream­liner bat­tery plan wins ap­proval


Boe­ing plan to re­design the 787 Dream­liner's fire-plagued lithium-ion bat­ter­ies won ap­proval from the US Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, although of­fi­cials gave no es­ti­mate for when the planes would be al­lowed to fly pas­sen­gers again.

The 787 fleet world­wide has been grounded by the FAA and civil avi­a­tion au­thor­i­ties in other coun­tries since Jan­uary 16, fol­low­ing a bat­tery fire on a Dream­liner parked in Bos­ton and a smok­ing bat­tery that led to the emer­gency land­ing of other 787 in Ja­pan.

The 787 is Boe­ing's new­est and most tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced plane. Its ground­ing marked the first time since 1979 that FAA had or­dered ev­ery plane of a par­tic­u­lar type to stay out of the air for safety rea­sons.

The Boe­ing plan in­cludes changes to the in­ter­nal bat­tery com­po­nents to min­imise the pos­si­bil­ity of short-cir­cuit­ing, which can lead to over­heat­ing and cause a fire. Among the changes are bet­ter in­su­la­tion of the bat­tery's eight cells and the ad­di­tion of a new con­tain­ment and vent­ing sys­tem, the FAA said in a state­ment Tues­day.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Rick Larsen, who was briefed by the agency, said that if all goes well, the FAA could give fi­nal ap­proval by mid- to late April for the 787 to re­sume flight. Boe­ing would still have to retro­fit the 50 planes al­ready de­liv­ered to eight air­lines in seven coun­tries, Larsen said in an in­ter­view. That could mean the plane wouldn't re­turn to the skies un­til late April or early May, he said.

First, Boe­ing's re­designed bat­ter­ies have to pass 20 sep­a­rate lab tests, Larsen said, then flight tests would fol­low. "If there's any one test that isn't passed, it's back to the draw­ing board for that par­tic­u­lar part of the tests," he said.

So far, test flights of two 787s have been ap­proved - one with a com­plete pro­to­type of the new bat­tery, the other with only a new, more ro­bust con­tain­ment box for the bat­tery, Boe­ing spokesman Marc Bir­tel said.

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