Boeing sees 787 airborne in weeks with fortified battery

Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:41pm EDT
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By Tim Kelly and Mari Saito

TOKYO (Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) said its 787 Dreamliner jets could be airborne within weeks with a fortified power pack that would eliminate the risk of fire, confident the U.S. aviation authority would approve the redesigned battery soon.

Regulators grounded all 50 of the carbon-composite Dreamliners in use by airlines worldwide in January after a battery caught fire on a Japan Airlines Co Ltd (9201.T: Quote) 787 jet at Boston's Logan airport and a battery melted on an All Nippon Airways Co Ltd (9202.T: Quote) flight in Japan.

Boeing, which has Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to test its new battery for certification, said Friday it will encase the redesigned power pack in a steel box, pack it with added insulation, heat-resistant material and spacers, drill drain holes to remove moisture, and vent any gases from overheating directly to the atmosphere outside the aircraft.

"If we look at the normal process and the way in which we work with the FAA, and we look at the testing that's ahead of us, it is reasonable to expect we could be back up and going in weeks, not months," the 787's chief engineer, Mike Sinnett, said at a briefing in Tokyo.

But the Civil Aviation Bureau (CAB), FAA's counterpart in Japan, dismissed Sinnett's prediction, saying it was still too early to say when 787 operations could resume.

Investigations by Japanese and U.S. transport regulators are still ongoing.

The investigators may never uncover the root cause of those failures, Sinnett said.

"Because we did not find the single root cause, we looked at everything that could impact a battery and set a broad set of solutions," Sinnett said.   Continued...

Boeing vice president and 787 Dreamliner chief production engineer Mike Sinnett poses with model of Boeing's 787 Battery Design Improvements after a news conference in Tokyo March 15, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai