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Boeing ramps up production plan for 787, still using troubled lithium-ion battery.

Boeing is continuing with plans to increase production of the 787, and sees no reason to drop the lithium-ion battery that has caused concern.
By JOSHUA FREED Published: January 31, 2013

Boeing is sticking with plans to speed up production of its 787 and sees no reason to drop the troubled lithium-ion batteries causing the plane's problems, CEO Jim McNerney said Wednesday.

A fire and emergency landing earlier this month, both involving the batteries, prompted regulators to ground Boeing's newest and highest-profile plane.

All Nippon Airways said Wednesday that it replaced batteries 10 times before the overheating problems surfaced earlier this month. McNerney said airlines have been replacing 787 batteries at a rate that's “slightly higher” than Boeing had expected. They've all been replaced for maintenance reasons, not for safety concerns, he said on a conference call.

Battery replacement

Boeing said about 2,000 batteries of all types are replaced every year on its various planes.

U.S. aviation officials said they have asked Boeing for a full operating history of the batteries on the 787s.

McNerney said “good progress” is being made in finding the cause of the problems. But he didn't have a timeline for when the plane would get back in the air. Boeing would like it to be soon.

The 787 lists for more than $200 million each, although discounts are common. Boeing has said it gets some 60 percent of the purchase price at the time of delivery. So deliveries are important to Boeing's cash flow, even though the planes themselves are money-losers for now because they cost more to build than Boeing sells them for. Boeing projects that it will eventually break even on the 787.

From the outside, the 787 looks more or less like other planes at the airport. But the guts of the thing are completely different. The body is mostly carbon fiber — sort of a high-tech plastic — rather than aluminum. Electricity powers things on the 787 that would be fed by moving air on other planes. All that new technology took years of engineering to develop.

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