WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration has accepted Boeing's revamped battery system for its beleaguered 787 Dreamliners and agreed to lift its grounding order, according to a congressional official.
The order gives Boeing the go ahead to begin retrofitting planes with an enhanced lithium ion battery system although the root cause of battery failures that caused a fire on one of the planes and smoke on another is still unknown.
Boeing intends to work on the retrofits over the weekend, and flights could resume within days to a week, the official said. The official requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly before the FAA's announcement.
The FAA gave Boeing permission last month to test the revamped system, which includes additional insulation around each of the battery's eight cells to prevent a short circuit or fire in one of the cells from spreading to the others. The new system also includes enhanced venting of smoke and gas from inside the battery to outside the plane. A strengthened box to hold the battery is an effort to ensure that if a fire were to occur, it wouldn't escape to the rest of the plane. Boeing has completed 20 separate tests of the new system, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told Congress earlier this week.
The FAA's action directly affects United Airlines, which is the only U.S. airline with 787s in its fleet. But aviation authorities in other countries are expected to swiftly follow suit. Boeing had delivered 50 planes to eight airlines in seven countries when a fire erupted in a battery aboard a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston's Logan International Airport on Jan. 7. The FAA and other authorities grounded the entire fleet after a second incident nine days later led to an emergency landing by an All Nippon Airways 787 in Japan.
Boeing has recently been readying replacement battery systems for installation in anticipation that the grounding order would soon be rescinded.
"We are primarily bound by EASA decisions, and we need to have their permission to end the grounding," said Marek Klucinski, a spokesman for Polish national carrier LOT, referring to the European Aviation Safety Agency. "If the (Boeing) decision is today, we can expect a permission to fly in the middle of next week." LOT has two of the planes: One in Warsaw, and one that was en route to Chicago when the grounding order was issued and has remained there.
The 787 is Boeing's newest and most technologically advanced plane. It is the world's first airliner made mostly from lightweight composite materials. It also relies on electronic systems rather than hydraulic or mechanical systems to a greater degree than any other airliner. And it is the first airliner to make extensive use of lithium ion batteries, which are lighter, recharge faster and can hold more energy than other types of batteries.
Boeing has billed the plane to its customers as 20 percent more fuel efficient than other midsized airliners. That's a big selling point, since fuel is the biggest expense for most airlines
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