Boeing 787 takes to sky in first flight check

Mon Mar 25, 2013 6:12pm EDT
 
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By Alwyn Scott and Andrea Shalal-Esa

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) 787 Dreamliner took to the sky on Monday in a test flight aimed at showing that the plane's new lithium-ion battery system meets regulatory safety standards, a key step in ending a two-month, worldwide grounding of the high-tech jet.

Monday's roughly two-hour flight, which Boeing said "went according to plan," lacked the crowds that cheered the 787's maiden journey in 2009. But if found successful, the test flight will allow Boeing to go ahead with a second flight test "in coming days" that would gather data to be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration to certify the new battery system, Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said.

The FAA and other regulators grounded all 50 Dreamliners in mid-January after batteries overheated on two separate aircraft, one parked at the Boston airport and the other forced to make an emergency landing in Japan. Earlier this month, the FAA agreed on tests Boeing would conduct to return the plane to service.

Resuming flights would be a relief for Boeing, which is losing an estimated $50 million a week while the 787 is grounded. Airlines in Japan, the United States, the Middle East, Europe and Africa that bought the fuel-efficient jet but are barred from using those planes are also suffering. Boeing is still building 787s, but cannot deliver them to customers during the grounding.

Some Boeing officials have said the jet could be back in service by May 1, or earlier.

But Oliver McGee, an aerospace and mechanical engineer who was a deputy assistant secretary of transportation under President Bill Clinton, said he was skeptical that regulators would allow service to resume so soon.

"Take whatever date is agreed upon and add three to six months to it," McGee told Reuters. "I don't think that you're going to see any type of quick fix or compromising on the FAA side."

McGee said the trauma of the Columbia and Challenger shuttle disasters would make federal officials reluctant to sign off on the new battery system until they were absolutely sure it would work as Boeing promised.   Continued...

 
A Boeing 787 lands in Everett, Washington travelling with crew only from Fort Worth, Texas in this file photo taken February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin P. Casey/Files