Boeing 787 returns to the skies

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Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Boeing 787 Dreamliner during one of its first flights in 2009. US FAA today gave a go-ahead to Boeing company for restarting test flights, after 50 Dreamliners in service were grounded across the world on January 16 following a series of incidents involving faulty batteries. Photo-Dave Sizer/Flickr

The US Federal Aviation Administration has given a go-ahead to Boeing Co for restarting test flights of the grounded 787 Dreamliner. Although the agencies are still interested in reviewing the approval process of batteries, the test flights will provide more data on the potentially faulty batteries.

The first 787 test flight took off from Texas to Washington, with no commercial passengers and a minimum crew. The plane landed safely with no technical issues. The test flight was requested by Boeing to collect additional data about the battery and electrical performance of plane.

After a series of incidents involving faulty batteries, 50 Dreamliners in service were grounded across the world on January 16. The batteries were blamed for a fire on board a parked 787 in Boston and another plane incident in Japan. The groundings have already caused a loss of several millions of dollars to the airlines.

Deborah Hersman, head of the US National Transportation Safety Board, says that the “special conditions” used in approving lithium-ion battery technology on the Dreamliners will be closely reviewed. Resumption of test flights provided a boost to Boeing shares, but analysts caution that the stocks will come under pressure in long-term if the entire battery system is required to be approved again.

In 2007, nine special conditions were set by the FAA to approve Boeing’s use of lithium-ion batteries in the Dreamliner. At that time, the risk of battery catching fire was considered extremely low, with a probability of one in every 10 million flight hours as per Boeing’s certification tests.

The NTSB will issue an interim factual report in 30 days, after which the Federal Aviation Administration will decide on the fate of commercial Dreamliner flights. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta stated that, “we must finish this work before reaching conclusions about what changes or improvements the FAA should make going forward. The leading experts in this field are working to understand what happened and how we can safely get these aircraft back into service”.

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