Bloomberg News and Associated Press
Boeing Co. officials are scheduled to meet with U.S. regulators Friday to propose fixes to the 787 Dreamliner in a bid to end the plane’s grounding, a person with knowledge of the talks said.
The proposal, which includes protections to ensure that another lithium-ion battery fire wouldn’t damage the plane or release smoke into the cabin, is subject to approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak about the meeting and asked not to be identified.
It would also have to be approved by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has said the Dreamliner won’t fly again until U.S. officials are “1,000 percent sure” it’s safe.
Boeing’s proposal will include a more fire-resistant box housing the eight cells in each of the two batteries aboard the 787, the person said. The planemaker’s engineers also want to create a tubing system to vent smoke or fumes emitted by the battery in case of an incident, according to the person.
Boeing is proposing the measures while working on a redesign of the batteries, the person said. The batteries are made by Kyoto-based GS Yuasa.
Ending the grounding is important for Boeing and the airlines that have taken delivery of the first 49 planes. Boeing wants to be able to resume shipments of new aircraft halted when the planes were ordered parked, and restarting flights might temper demand for compensation by carriers whose schedules have been disrupted.
Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman, declined Wednesday to say whether a meeting had been scheduled. “We have been in close communication with the regulatory and investigative authorities since the 787 issue arose,” he said.
“Everyone is working to get to the answer as quickly as possible and good progress is being made,” he said.
Boeing this week quietly launched a website discussing its work on the 787 problems, at 787updates.newairplane.com.
The Dreamliner, which was designed to gain efficiency by using more electrical systems compared to earlier models, was grounded by the FAA Jan. 16 after a second incident that month in which a battery smoldered and emitted smoke. The 787 is the only airliner equipped with large lithium-ion batteries.
The regulator approved Boeing’s battery in 2007 under “special conditions” prohibiting hazardous gas from accumulating in the plane if a battery overheated or caught fire. It also said a fire couldn’t damage critical equipment or the plane’s structure.
After a battery caught fire on a plane parked in Boston and a smoking battery led to an emergency landing by another plane in Japan, the FAA and overseas aviation authorities grounded all 49 of the planes in service worldwide.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the battery fire in a Japan Airlines 787 that was discovered shortly after the plane landed at Boston’s Logan International Airport on Jan. 7. Japanese authorities are investigating a battery failure in a 787 that made an emergency landing nine days later. Investigators have said the batteries experienced short-circuiting and thermal runaway, a chemical reaction that causes progressively hotter temperatures, but they haven’t found the root cause of the incidents.
The 787 was supposed to exemplify the future of commercial aviation, but the groundings have been a major public black eye and financial drain for Boeing, which vies with Airbus for the position as the world’s largest commercial aircraft maker.
Boeing hasn’t said how much the 787 grounding will cost it. Imperial Capital analyst Ken Herbert estimated last week that it could cost Boeing $25 million a month in direct costs, with the total price tag climbing past $1 billion, including spending to fix the problem and expenses for delayed deliveries.
Boeing is still building five 787s per month in Everett and North Charleston, S.C., and has said it still wants to speed up production to 10 a month by the end of the year. The company had orders for 800 of the planes at the time they were grounded.
It would take a delay of more than a couple of months for Boeing to back away from its speed-up plan, UBS analyst David Strauss speculated in a note on Wednesday.
Eight airlines in seven countries have 787s in their fleets. United Airlines, the only U.S. carrier with 787s, has cut its five 787s out of its schedule through the end of March. The grounding has been the most disruptive for Japan’s All Nippon Airways, which has 17 of the planes.
LOT Polish Airlines is losing $50,000 a day due to the grounding of its two Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes, according to information made public by the Polish government on Wednesday. One of LOT Polish Airlines’ 787s was stranded in Chicago by the grounding. LOT is still waiting for six more 787s to be delivered, several of them early this year.