Dreamliner turbulence may end soon

March 27, 2013 - 6:38:02 am

A LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner with a redesigned lithium-ion battery touches down after a test flight at Paine Field in Evertt, Washington.

Washington: Boeing has completed the first successful tests of its troubled Dreamliner 787 since the jet was grounded following battery fires.

The company said the tests went “according to plan”, and Boeing is now planning a second test to gather data for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has to give its approval before the 787 is allowed to fly commercially again.

Boeing had delivered just 50 of the jets when lithium-ion batteries on two of the planes caught fire. The two incidents, one in the US another in Japan, triggered a global grounding for the Dreamliner.

Investigators in Japan and the US are now looking into what went wrong and have so far concentrated on the planes’ battery systems. 

It is the first time that lightweight lithium-ion batteries have been used so extensively on a large passenger jet.

“During the functional check flight, crews cycled the landing gear and operated all the backup systems, in addition to performing electrical system checks from the flight profile,” Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said in a statement.

The two-hour flight on Monday carried six crew members: two Boeing pilots, two instrumentation engineers, a systems operator and a flight analyst, Boeing said.

Boeing is believed to be testing a new casing for the battery and a venting system that would dispel potentially flammable gases. 

On January 7 one of the 787s batteries burst into flames while the plane was parked at Boston’s Logan airport. That battery is now the subject of investigation but the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB), which has concluded in an interim report that short circuits across its eight cells may have triggered the fire. The NTSB has, however, not yet identified a root cause for the fire.

On January 16, in Japan, the battery on a second 787 triggered a smoke alarm while in flight leading to an emergency landing. Japanese investigators have yet to identify the cause of that fire.

The NTSB will hold a meeting on lithium-ion batteries in April, where the controversial technology will be discussed by airline and freight executives as well as safety experts and scientists. Lithium-ion batteries have caused fires in smaller planes, cars, computers and mobile devices in the past. Freighting the technology by plane is also carefully regulated.

Robert Mann, founder of airline consultant RW Mann, said it was a positive step that Boeing was testing the 787 but added: “Until there is a conclusive root-cause analysis a lot of folks will be circumspect about the Dreamliner.

“At this point, it is not clear to anyone except Boeing exactly what they are testing. We don’t know what the cause of the incidents were. I assume that they are testing the enclosure of the battery bit if it subsequently turns out that that was not where the issuer started, we haven’t learnt anything.”

Boeing is losing an estimated $50m a week while the 787 is grounded and has told customers it expects to have the plane back in the air this spring. Rival Airbus has dropped lithium-ion battery technology from its A350 passenger jet.

Guardian News