WASHINGTON – Boeing Co.’s revolutionary 787 airliner moved significantly closer to returning to service Friday when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approved design modifications for a malfunctioning battery system that caused a worldwide grounding of the new planes.
“These changes to the 787 battery will ensure the safety of the aircraft and its passengers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Boeing’s stock bumped up nearly 2 percent Friday on reports that the Dreamliner could be cleared to resume service within days.
According to estimates, the grounding has cost Boeing $600 million and officials at several airlines that recently had received 787s or were waiting for them have said they may seek to recover their losses from the firm.
The FAA ordered that new venting and containment systems be installed to the main and auxiliary battery systems.
“A team of FAA certification specialists observed rigorous tests we required Boeing to perform and devoted weeks to reviewing detailed analysis of the design changes to reach this decision,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta explained.
The FAA added it would monitor the fixes.
“Any return to service of the modified 787 will only take place after the FAA accepts the work,” the agency said in a statement. “As the certifying authority, the FAA will continue to support other authorities around the world as they finalize their own acceptance procedures.”
In January, the FAA grounded six new 787 Dreamliners flown by United Airlines after a spate of incidents raised doubts about the safety of the high-tech plane. Aviation agencies in other countries quickly followed suit. United is the only U.S. carrier flying 787s.
The concern focused on the plane’s lithium-ion batteries, which overheated in two 787s. In one case, alarms went off and the pilots smelled a burning battery on a domestic All Nippon Airways Co. flight bound for Tokyo. ANA and Japan Airlines Corp., which together fly 24 of the 50 Dreamliners in service, grounded their 787s after that plane had to make an emergency landing.
The FAA said the two battery failures resulted in the release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage and smoke.
Meanwhile, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation is continuing.
In Tokyo, transport minister Akihiro Ota said Friday that the ministry’s review of the 787 problem was near completion, but he added it was unclear how quickly the plane could resume passenger service.
The Dreamliner is the first in a new generation of lighter, more fuel-efficient carbon-fiber airplanes in which electronics have replaced hydraulic control systems. The planes are priced between $207 million and $243 million (¥20.6 billion to ¥24.2 billion), and Boeing says more than 800 of them are on order.