Friday, April 05, 2013

Boeing Flies 787 Battery-Certification Flight: WSJ

Updated April 5, 2013, 6:34 p.m. ET


The Wall Street Journal

Boeing Co. said Friday it had finished the testing of a redesigned battery system to address the electrical problems that grounded its 787 Dreamliner jet, starting the clock on a final review by regulators to approve the fixes and allow the plane to return to commercial service.

Two representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration joined nine Boeing staff on a nearly two-hour test flight that the company called "uneventful," as it evaluated changes to resolve problems that led to the whole 787 fleet being grounded by regulators in January.

Boeing said it will deliver results of Friday's flight and other recent ground and laboratory testing to the FAA "in the coming days."

Friday's flight marks the last in a series of tests, and moves the regulatory review into a new phase, with officials in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere having the final say on when the jet can return to service.

The flight follows about a month of extensive ground tests of the battery system, which people familiar with the process said met U.S. aviation regulators' objectives.

"Once we deliver the materials, we stand ready to reply to additional requests and continue in dialogue with the FAA to ensure we have met all of their expectations," said Boeing.

Boeing officials seem confident that FAA chief Michael Huerta and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will approve the resumption of passenger flights, these same officials said. That is primarily because all of the testing methods and procedures—as well as specific criteria for passing the tests—were agreed on in advance by FAA technical experts. The tests also were supervised by the FAA.

"It's pretty much a black-and-white question of meeting the test requirements," according to one person familiar with the details. "There's no room for subjectivity."

Under a best-case scenario, Boeing hopes to get a favorable decision from the FAA by mid-April and then anticipates several weeks of work assisting the eight airlines with 787s in installing and checking out the redesigned batteries and new containment system. If all goes well, full 787 service world-wide could resume by early June, according to people involved in the process.

Some safety experts, and even some Boeing and government officials, predict a somewhat longer timetable, largely due to extended deliberations by regulators.

Mr. LaHood, who initially pushed FAA and Boeing engineers to find the specific cause of the two burning 787 batteries that grounded the fleet in mid-January, previously said he intends to raise lots of questions about the fixes.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month before the FAA gave its preliminary approval for the fixes and authorized the flight test, Mr. LaHood said: "I have made it very clear that I want a thorough review" of the plan to fix the batteries.

"I want to get to the bottom of what happened, why it happened and how it can be corrected," he said at the time, "and what we can do to prevent it" in the future.

Regulators in Japan and some other countries will conduct their own reviews of the certification tests, though most of them are likely to follow the FAA's lead.

The company used a 787 built for LOT Polish Airlines SA on Friday's flight from Boeing's Everett, Wash., facility. The jet has been grounded since Jan. 16 following twin incidents aboard Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. 787s.


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