Boeing working on 787 battery changes for fire risk: WSJ

Thu Feb 7, 2013 1:40am EST
 

WASHINGTON/TOKYO (Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) is working on battery design changes that would minimize fire risks on its grounded 787 Dreamliner and could have the passenger jet flying again as soon as March, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Separately, U.S. aviation regulators said they would allow Boeing to make a one-off 787 flight from Texas to the company's facility in Washington State, under strict conditions. Boeing said the plane, scheduled for delivery to China Southern Airlines (600029.SS: Quote), would be a "ferry" flight - used to relocate a plane without carrying passengers or conducting tests.

Regulators around the world grounded the technologically advanced 787 in mid-January after a battery fire in Boston and a second incident involving a battery on a flight in Japan.

Boeing is looking at changes within the 787's lithium-ion battery to keep heat or fire from spreading, though technical details have not yet been finalized or approved, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed government and industry officials. One of the paper's sources added that, under a best-case scenario, passenger flights could resume in March.

However, the Dreamliner's launch customer All Nippon Airways Co Ltd (ANA) (9202.T: Quote), which has the biggest fleet of the 250-seat planes, said it will cancel 1,887 flights, affecting more than 25,000 passengers, from March 1 to 30. The airline said it had no information on Boeing's latest battery plans.

Boeing declined to comment on the newspaper report. GS Yuasa Corp 6674.T, the Japanese firm that makes batteries for the 787, also declined to comment.

INVESTIGATIONS ONGOING

Air safety investigators from the United States and Japan have been investigating the battery incidents for three weeks. On Wednesday, the head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was "probably weeks away" from completing its probe. NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman will update on the investigation at a briefing later on Thursday.

In Tokyo, one official said Japanese regulators had not been notified of any breakthrough in the U.S. battery probe. "The investigation will continue as scheduled. Resuming flights in March ... seems far too optimistic to me," said the official who didn't want to be named as the investigation is ongoing.   Continued...

 
All Nippon Airways' (ANA) Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner aircraft which made an emergency landing on last Wednesday, is seen through a window of the ANA's Airbus A320 jet, at Takamatsu airport in Takamatsu, western Japan January 19, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato