Boeing flies 787 for FAA to prove battery system

EVERETT — The Boeing Co. will submit material gathered from Friday’s 787 test flight to aviation authorities “within the coming days” in an effort to return the grounded Dreamliner to passenger service, the company said.

The company tested the 787’s redesigned battery system on a Friday flight lasting one hour, 49 minutes. The Dreamliner, painted in LOT Polish Airlines livery, took off and returned to Paine Field on a flight described by Boeing crew members as “uneventful.”

“The purpose of the flight was to demonstrate that the new battery system performs as intended during normal and non-normal flight conditions,” Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said in a statement.

Eleven people were aboard, including two representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration. The flight was the final certification test for the jet’s new battery system, Birtel said. The company already conducted ground tests that included purposely overheating the system to ensure it eliminates the possibility of fire in the battery, which has been redesigned with extra space between cells.

Boeing will gather and analyze the data from Friday’s flight before submitting final paperwork to the FAA. After that, Boeing will “stand ready to reply to additional requests and continue in dialog with the FAA to ensure we have met all of their expectations,” Birtel said in a statement.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declined to say today when he will decide whether to end the grounding.

Boeing must convince regulators the Dreamliner and its battery upgrade are safe before flights can resume, LaHood said after speaking at a conference sponsored by the Export-Import Bank in Washington, D.C. The concept for the fix, on which the FAA signed off in March, “was a good plan,” and regulators are now waiting to see the results, LaHood said.

“We want to get it right,” LaHood said. “We want to make sure that everything’s done correctly. We want to be able to assure the flying public that these planes are safe.”

The FAA grounded the Dreamliner on Jan. 16 after two battery incidents on 787s. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and LaHood had called for a comprehensive review of the 787 just days before the jet’s grounding.

In late February, Boeing presented the FAA with the new design. The agency gave Boeing the OK to test the updated battery system on March 12.

Boeing has sent engineers to Japan, home to the biggest 787 fleets, to get ready to install upgraded units, according to Birtel. That work takes four to five days to complete on each plane.

If the FAA approves the changes and returns the 787 to commercial duty, Chicago-based Boeing has said it will make the battery upgrades to aircraft in roughly the order that they were delivered to customers. All Nippon and Japan Airlines were the first two customers and operate 24 of 49 jets that were in service worldwide.

The 787’s lithium-ion battery will be the subject of a two-day forum next week in Washington, D.C., organized by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB continues to investigate a Jan. 7 battery fire aboard a parked 787 operated by Japan Airlines. Japanese aviation officials, meanwhile, are investigating a Jan. 15 battery problem on an All Nippon Airways Dreamliner.

The NTSB will also hold a formal fact-finding hearing April 23 and 24 about the Jan. 7 incident.

The Dreamliner’s battery problems also have drawn the attention of the U.S. Senate. The Transportation Committee will hold an April 16 hearing on the FAA’s ongoing investigation of the 787.

Boeing’s shares got a boost on the flight news Friday, increasing $1.22 to close at $86.17.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report. Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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