The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has approved Boeing’s certification plan for the redesign of the faulty 787 Dreamliner battery system, allowing further testing and analysis of the new system to make sure it's in compliance with current guidelines.
Boeing redesigned internal battery components to lessen the chance of a short circuit, the culprit determined to have caused the lithium battery fires aboard a Japan Airlines 787 flight in Boston. The Boeing team also added a new venting system and better cell insulation to the design.
Boeing officials first submitted the new plan to the FAA in late February.
"Working with internal and external experts in battery technology, we have proposed a comprehensive set of solutions designed to significantly minimize the potential for battery failure while ensuring that no battery event affects the continued safe operation of the airplane," Ray Conner, Boeing’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the 787s can’t return to service unless Boeing proves the new battery is safe and the design works as planned in the real world. The FAA grounded all 787 flights in the United States in mid-January.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta expressed optimism the new design will fix the lithium battery issue.
“We are confident the plan we approved today includes all the right elements to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the battery system redesign,” he said in a statement. “Today’s announcement starts a testing process which will demonstrate whether the proposed fix will work as designed.”
Test flights with two aircraft to show how the battery works under normal and abnormal stress will now begin alongside the FAA’s continuing review of all aspects of the 787.
"We have a great deal of confidence in our solution set and the process for certifying it," Conner said. "Before 787s return to commercial service, our customers and their passengers want assurance that the improvements being introduced will make this great airplane even better. That's what this test program will do."
In April, the National Transportation Safety Board will convene a forum and hearings into the use of lithium batteries on planes. - Jon Ross