Boeing 787 flight tests new battery system

Kyodo, Bloomberg

Boeing Co. has conducted the final test flight of its 787 Dreamliner to demonstrate the safety of troubled aircraft’s new battery system, as part of a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration certification exam.

“Today’s flight marks the final certification test for the new battery system, completing the testing required by the FAA,” Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said in a press release Friday after the flight.

The company said the test flight was “uneventful” and that “the certification demonstration plan was straightforward.”

Authorities have grounded the entire global fleet of 50 Boeing Dreamliners after one operated by All Nippon Airways Co. had to make an emergency landing Jan. 16 at Takamatsu Airport, Kagawa Prefecture, because a lithium-ion battery created smoke in the cockpit. Nine days earlier, a battery fire broke out aboard a Japan Airlines Corp. 787 at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Boeing said it has come up with a solution to the battery issue that includes increased thermal and electrical insulation and an enclosure to prevent overheating batteries from affecting other parts of the aircraft.

The cause of the battery malfunctions still hasn’t been determined, but Boeing assured in a March 15 presentation that the design changes will ensure the safe operations of Dreamliners.

Kyoto-based GS Yuasa Corp. will continue to manufacture the lithium-ion batteries installed in the aircraft.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declined to say Friday when he will decide whether to end the grounding of 787s in the United States. “I know you wanted something more definitive,” LaHood told reporters in Washington. “So does Boeing.”

The firm must convince federal regulators that the Dreamliner and its battery upgrade are safe before a flight resumption can be authorized, according to LaHood. The concept for the fix approved by the FAA in March “was a good plan” and the agency is now awaiting the results of the test flight, he said.

In Tokyo meanwhile, Masahiro Kudo, an accident investigator for the Japan Transport Safety Board, told reporters that the agency will conduct ground tests this week on the ANA 787 that made the emergency landing at Takamatsu.

The FAA approved Boeing’s plans to test and certify proposed changes to the Dreamliners’ battery system last month. The manufacturer said the test flight, using a jet built for LOT Polish Airlines and carrying two FAA representatives on board, lasted almost two hours. The aircraft took off from and landed at Paine Field Airport in Everett, Washington state, near a Boeing factory.

The company said it will analyze and submit the data to the FAA in the “coming days.”

Boeing’s ground tests included deliberately overheating the battery system to evaluate a stainless-steel enclosure designed to eliminate the possibility of fire, and a tube that would vent any liquid or vapors directly out of the aircraft. The spacing and insulation for the power cells has also been increased to prevent the spread of any overheating, while new circuitry has been installed for the battery chargers.

U.S. media reported that Boeing has already started preparations to make the necessary adjustments to the battery units of Dreamliners already delivered to airlines, including JAL and ANA, on the assumption that the aircraft will be certified as safe to take to the skies again.