FAA approves Boeing Dreamliner battery system design

Fri Apr 19, 2013 5:33pm EDT
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By Alwyn Scott and Andrea Shalal-Esa

(Reuters) - Regulators on Friday approved a revamped battery system for Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner, a crucial step in returning the high-tech jet to service after it was grounded in January because the plane's lithium-ion batteries overheated.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it had approved a package of detailed design changes, a move that allows Boeing to issue a service bulletin and begin making repairs to the fleet of 50 planes owned by eight airlines around the world. Other global regulators must approve Boeing's new design for the repairs outside the United States, but were expected to act quickly once the FAA gave its blessing.

The FAA action all but ends a grounding that has cost Boeing an estimated $600 million, halted deliveries and forced some airlines to lease alternative aircraft. Several airlines have said they will seek compensation from Boeing, potentially adding to the plane maker's losses.

The agency also said the jet retained permission to fly up to 180 minutes over remote areas and oceans once U.S. regulators allowed the Dreamliner to return to the skies. There had been talk of scaling back the approved range, known as ETOPS, which would have limited the use of the fuel-efficient jet.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said the 787's promised benefits "remain fully intact."

Reaction in the industry was swift and joyous.

"We're back in business, baby!" tweeted the Washington Aerospace Partnership, a group of business, labor and local government leaders supportive of Boeing.

"This is a good step forward," United Airlines said in a statement. United is the only U.S. carrier with 787s and plans to add them to its schedule starting May 31. Plans to launch service from Denver to Tokyo Narita are set for June 10, but depend on completing the modifications by then, it added.   Continued...

A model of Boeing's 787 Battery Design Improvements is displayed in Tokyo March 15, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai