Dreamliner battery fix approved

Boeing has received approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for its proposed solution to the overheating batteries in its Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

The fuel-efficient aircraft has been grounded since 17 January 2013 due to problems with its lithium-ion batteries, which are believed to be overheating. While the exact cause of this fault still hasn’t been identified, Boeing says it has created a “permanent” fix for the aircraft.

Boeing's 787 will return to the skies soon
Boeing's 787 will return to the skies soon

“Working with internal and external experts in battery technology, we have proposed a comprehensive set of solutions designed to significantly minimise the potential for battery failure while ensuring that no battery event affects the continued safe operation of the airplane,” said Boeing’s commercial president & CEO, Ray Conner.

“Our proposal includes three layers of improvements. First, we’ve improved design features of the battery to prevent faults from occurring and to isolate any that do. Second, we’ve enhanced production, operating and testing processes to ensure the highest levels of quality and performance of the battery and its components. Third, in the unlikely event of a battery failure, we’ve introduced a new enclosure system that will keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or being noticed by passengers,” Conner added.

This solution was presented to the FAA in late February, and the aviation regulator has now given its approval for Boeing to proceed with certification tests.

Flight tests will be conducted aboard two aircraft, although Boeing said that “additional testing may be scheduled as needed”. No timeline for the tests was given, but only when the FAA is satisfied the aircraft is safe will the world’s Dreamliners be permitted to resume commercial operations.

“We won’t allow the plane to return to service unless we’re satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers,” US Transport Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday.

All 50 Dreamliners, operated by eight airlines, have been grounded since January, when overheating was detected in the batteries onboard aircraft operated by both Japan Airlines and ANA. Qatar Airways and United Airlines had also previously reported electrical faults aboard their B787s.

Boeing has also been ordered to halt deliveries of new Dreamliners, forcing customers including Thomson and Qatar Airways to postpone new route launches. Conner said he was confident however, that these tests would enable the Dreamliner to fly again.

“We have a great deal of confidence in our solution set and the process for certifying it. Before 787s return to commercial service, our customers and their passengers want assurance that the improvements being introduced will make this great airplane even better. That’s what this test program will do,” Conner said.

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