Japanese airline ANA resumed flights over the weekend with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner for the first time since problems with the plane's lithium batteries led the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other civil aviation authorities to ground the model from commercial service earlier this year, Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for commercial airplanes at Boeing, wrote in a blog post on the company's Website Monday.
On May 20, United Airlines, the only U.S. carrier with 787s in its fleet so far, relaunched 787 service between Houston and Chicago. It has since operated Dreamliner flights from Houston to other domestic hubs and says it will launch international 787 service on the route between Denver and Tokyo on June 10. During the summer, United plans to inaugurate 787 service on routes such as Houston-London, Los Angeles-Tokyo, Los Angeles-Shanghai, and Houston-Lagos as Boeing converts United's six Dreamliners to FAA standards.
United expects to take delivery of two more 787s in the second half of the year.
Last month, the FAA approved battery system improvements for the Dreamliner that would allow the plane to return to service and delivery of new planes to resume. ANA and Japan Airlines experienced two battery fires on planes in January and a United plane experienced similar issues with an overheated battery.
The 787 is a major strategic initiative for Boeing and has proven popular with airlines, with more than 850 planes ordered to date. The plane uses composite materials instead of aluminum for major sections of its superstructure, which along with technological advances make the plane 20 percent more fuel efficient than other long-distance aircraft. The midsized plane can serve most destinations around the world without having to refuel.
Boeing has delivered 50 of the planes to eight airlines, but the production schedule was delayed by more than three years because of quality control problems associated with extending the supply chain further than with any other previous aircraft produced by the manufacturer.
The FAA conducted an extensive review of certification tests before granting approval to install the upgraded batteries in the 787. The tests were designed to validate that individual components of the battery, as well as its integration with the charging system and a new steel enclosure to contain any potential fire, performed as expected during normal operation and under failure conditions. Design changes are intended to prevent and isolate a fault should it occur. Boeing worked with its suppliers and the National Transportation Safety Board and the Japan Transport Safety Board to analyze the factors that could have led to the batteries catching fire and test the new solution. It also engaged more than a dozen battery experts from across multiple industries, government, academia and consumer safety to review and validate the company's assumptions, findings and proposed corrections.
Boeing has deployed teams to locations around the world to install improved battery systems on existing 787s. The company is also installing the improved battery system on new planes at its two 787 final-assembly plants in Washington and South Carolina. Despite the disruption in deliveries that began in January, Boeing says it expects to complete all planned 2013 deliveries by the end of the year. Toward that end, Boeing has increased is production rate to seven planes per month and plans to achieve a rate of 10 new builds by the end of the year.
The plane manufacture has built 114 planes so far.
ANA operated five non-scheduled, domestic flights with the Dreamliner in advance of resuming regular 787 service on June 1. ANA has modified the batteries on all 17 of its 787 aircraft, Tinseth said. - Eric Kulisch