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Boeing 787 Dreamliner Finally Resumes Passenger Flights

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has carried passengers for the first time since a battery problem grounded all 50 planes worldwide, and Boeing says it already has modified the battery systems aboard more than 10 airplanes to correct the problem.
The weekend flights came more than three months after the entire Dreamliner fleet was grounded in the wake of the meltdown of the batteries aboard two 787s in January. Although investigators in the United States and Japan have not found the root cause of the problem, the Federal Aviation Administration has
approved Boeing’s plan to retrofit the aircraft with a modified system that reduces the risk of a battery fire. The agency’s counterparts in Europe and Japan followed suit last week.
Launch customer All Nippon Airways was first in line for the fix, which includes improved separation of individual lithium-ion cells within the 63-pound battery and installing the battery in a heavy-duty sealed stainless steel box vented directly to the exterior of the fuselage. On Saturday, the airline completed a flight test of the new system with several airline and Boeing executives aboard.
That flight came the same day that Ethiopian Airlines resumed Dreamliner service, carrying a plane full of passengers — including Boeing vice president Randy Tinseth — from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya.
Boeing has deployed 10 teams of elite mechanics known as “aircraft on ground” units to make the modifications. The upgrades have been tested in the air and on the ground with a pair of 787s. Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s chief engineer on the 787, has said the new design eliminates the chance of a battery fire. Should a battery experience a short circuit that leads to overheating and melting, as was seen aboard Dreamliners in Boston and Japan, the venting system will keep the cockpit and cabin free of fumes.
Although the FAA does not require Boeing mechanics to install the new battery systems, the company is making them available and expects most airlines will use them, Sinnett said. Just when each airline will begin flying their updated Dreamliners remains to be seen.
“Different airlines will have different requirements for functional test flights,” according to Sinnett.
Based on the FAA approval, U.S. carriers need only to have the new equipment installed and the aircraft inspected by the FAA before resuming passenger flights. There is no requirement for flight testing, though most airlines are expected to have pilots conduct a shake-down flight much as they do when taking delivery of a new airplane.
Ethiopian Airlines’ return to service came quicker than most. Polish airline LOT, which saw its 787 stranded in Chicago after the FAA grounded the fleet, says it will resume service June 5. All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, which together account for about half of the 50 planes in service, are expected to move more slowly, testing the aircraft thoroughly and assuring the public that its aircraft are safe.
Two days of hearings with the National Transportation Safety Board ended Wednesday with still no declaration of a root cause of the battery meltdowns. Federal investigators have questioned the way in which the FAA and Boeing performed the tests. Sinnett testified that, in retrospect, he would have questioned battery maker GS Yuasa more. He says the tests performed, including driving a nail through some lithium-ion cells to create a short circuit, were state of the art but obviously fell short of what could happen during routine use.
“In retrospect, we may apply tighter test criteria or seek to understand test criteria a little more,” Sinnett said in his opening remarks.
Beyond modifying more than 10 grounded Dreamliners, Boeing says it also has installed the new battery system in nine airplanes awaiting delivery. The company plans to deliver more than 60 Dreamliners in 2013, the same number it planned before the battery fleet was grounded, company officials said in an earnings call. CEO Jim McNerney told analysts and reporters the company will resume deliveries early next month and finish retrofitting current airliners by the middle of the month.via: wired.com

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