* Approval clears way for return of jet to passenger service
* "We're back in business, baby!" industry group says
By Alwyn Scott and Andrea Shalal-Esa
April 19 U.S. regulators approved on Friday 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 its lithium-ion batteries
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of design
changes allows Boeing to immediately begin making repairs to the
fleet of 50 planes owned by airlines around the world.
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 Chief Executive Jim McNerney said the 787's promised
benefits "remain fully intact" and reaction in the industry was
FLYING AGAIN IN DAYS?
"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.
In theory, the planes could be carrying passengers again
within a week. Boeing said it takes five days to refit each jet
and that no regulatory barrier prevents airlines from putting
planes into service after the work is finished. In practice,
however, airlines typically perform "check flights" before
carrying passengers, Mike Sinnett, chief 787 program engineer,
told a news conference Friday.
With 10 teams already in place around the world and Friday's
approval to begin work, installation could move quickly and then
"it's up to the airlines" when they begin using the plane,
The FAA said it will issue an "airworthiness directive" next
week that formally lifts the U.S. ban on passenger flights.
Nearly half of the planes in service are owned by Japanese
carriers All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines
. Japan's Civil Aviation Bureau (CAB), the counterpart
of the FAA, gave a nod to the FAA's approval.
"We are closely working with the FAA and are analyzing and
assessing the 787 improvement measures, and we do not see any
problems," Shigeru Takano, an official at the CAB, said.
The next step for Japan would be to revise its version of
the airworthiness directive, known as a "technical circular
directive" Takano said that could come on or after April 25.
"We want to make the final decision on flight resumption
based on the FAA's airworthiness directive revision as well as
checking the results of a U.S. National Transportation Safety
Board-hosted hearing set to take place on April 23 and 24," he
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the top
U.S. transportation investigator, is investigating a battery
fire on a JAL Dreamliner plane parked at an airport in Boston in
January and will have an investigative hearing on the jet's
battery next week.
Japan has yet to decide whether it should require ANA and
JAL to take additional measures to ensure the safety of the
lithium-ion batteries used in the Dreamliner, Takano added.
Mark Rosenker, who headed the NTSB under President George W.
Bush, said the FAA clearly believed that Boeing's proposed
changes would avert further problems.
"It should give the flying public a sense of safety and
reliance and well-being," said Rosenker. He said he expected
airlines to resume flying the planes in May.
COSTS STILL UNCLEAR
Much of the design change in the battery system already is
well-known, thanks to Boeing's detailed descriptions of the
system to customers, legislators and media.
Before the planes can fly, they must be fitted with a
"containment and venting" system for both lithium-ion batteries
on the 787, the FAA said. That includes a stainless-steel
enclosure to prevent heat, fumes or fire from spreading if a
battery overheats in flight. Batteries and battery chargers must
also be replaced with different components, the FAA said.
Boeing also will install the new system on planes produced
since the grounding that were barred from being delivered.
"They're running out of space on the tarmac," outside the
factory near Seattle, said Congressman Rick Larsen, a Washington
Democrat who has the factory in his district. He said Boeing
expects it will take five or six months to clear that backlog.
He said he did not have a problem with the FAA approving the
fix before the NTSB hearing next week, since accident
investigations often take longer than regulatory action.
"There's a lot more we need to learn about lithium-ion batteries
and technology," he said.
Sinnett said Boeing still expected to deliver all of the
Dreamliners it had planned this year. The company has been
conducting flight tests of the new planes so they can be
delivered quickly when the new systems are installed.
But costs remain unclear. Boeing has not put a dollar figure
on the battery crisis, but some analysts estimate it cost $50
million a week. Others said that seemed high.
Richard Aboulafia, aviation analyst at Teal Group, said
Boeing also faced claims from airlines for the grounding, which
would compound the much-higher-than-expected cost of launching
the new aircraft. Boeing had expected to spend about $4 billion
to $5 billion on the new composite plane, but the cost was now
closer to $20 billion, he said.
"This has just been another increment of pain on top of a
whole lot of other pain," Aboulafia said.
Nevertheless, Boeing's stock rose 2.1 percent on Friday to
$87.96, and has gained 18.3 percent since the 787 was grounded
on January 16.
In approving the change, the FAA is indicating that it
believes Boeing's fix is adequate to address the risk of fire on
the plane. However, the NTSB continues to investigate what
caused a battery to catch fire on the JAL plane in Boston. A
second battery overheated during an ANA flight in Japan a few
days later, prompting regulators to ground the Dreamliner.
Boeing has said its redesign addresses more than 80
potential causes, and therefore is more rigorous than if a
single cause had been found.
The NTSB said Friday it would call officials from the FAA
and Boeing, including Sinnett, to testify, along with people
from Thales SA of France, which makes the battery
system, and GS Yuasa Corp of Japan, which makes the
Asked Friday why Boeing trusted engineering assumptions that
were proved wrong by events, and why Boeing or the public should
trust them now, Sinnett said the company had learned to be more
conservative in testing batteries, and applied that to the new
system. He said the NTSB hearing next week would look into the
question of whether the original system should have been safer.
As for other "unknown unknowns" that may lurk in the plane,
he said, "There will be some significant special attention given
to this and what we have learned from it."