By Alwyn Scott and Andrea Shalal-Esa
NEW YORK, March 25 A Boeing Co 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
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
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.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board on Monday set
a two-day forum for April 11-12 to examine the design and
performance of lithium-ion batteries in transportation -- a
comprehensive review sparked by the twin battery failures in
January. The NTSB also plans to hold a separate hearing on the
787 battery later in April.
Monday's flight, the first with Boeing's new battery system,
took off at approximately 12:11 p.m. Pacific time (1911 GMT)
from Paine Field in Everett, Washington, on a planned two-hour
mission designed to validate that all systems on the plane are
working as designed.
Live video showed the jet, with LOT Polish Airlines livery,
soaring into a clear sky with snow-capped mountains in the
distance. It flew south down the west coast of Washington and
about half way down the coast of Oregon before turning back to
Paine Field, according to flight tracking website
Flightware.com. It made a loop out the Strait of Juan de Fuca at
low altitude and speed, then turned back toward the airport. The
flight landed at 2:20 p.m. Pacific time, and the flight crew
reported the test "went according to plan," Boeing said in a
Once data from Monday's flight has been analyzed, Boeing
said it would prepare for a ground and flight demonstration
aimed at certifying the company's proposed changes to the
battery system. The system is made by Thales SA of
France, and the battery is made by Japan's GS Yuasa Corp
Boeing plans to conduct one certification demonstration
flight using the same LOT plane, Line number 86, to show that
the new battery system performs as intended during flight
conditions. The system includes a steel box designed to contain
a battery explosion and prevent fire, as well as a tube to vent
fumes and heat out of the aircraft.
Birtel said it wasn't clear if the demonstration test for
the FAA would conclude Boeing's testing of the new battery
system, which was unveiled in Tokyo on March 15. The tests are
being conducted in labs, in planes on the ground, and in flight.
"Obviously, progress is being made on all three fronts,"
Boeing's shares closed up 3 cents at $84.85 on the New York
Stock Exchange, on a day when the major indexes all finished
Despite uncertainty about when the FAA will approve Boeing's
new battery system, some experts said the revamped unit is
likely to prove successful. Former NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker
said Boeing has invested hundreds of thousands of engineering
hours to develop the improved battery system.
"They don't want to put an airplane up that they're going to
have to deal with again," he told Reuters.
"They want this thing resolved. They want to do it in an
efficient, appropriate, scientific, analytic way. It is not in
their best interests to rush a system."
John Goglia, a former NTSB board member, said he expects the
steel containment box will work as expected, and the plane could
be returned to service in April.
"I will give the Boeing engineers the benefit of the doubt
that they have designed a box that will handle what the battery
can give it," he said.