The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has officially approved design modifications for the Boeing 787's lithium battery system after giving the go-ahead for Boeing's certification plan in early March.
The final directive for a return to service for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner planes will be published in the Federal Register
next week. The agency will also give aircraft operators instructions for implementing the new battery system.
In addition to other modifications, 787 operators must install new venting systems near the batteries. Agency inspectors will be present during these modifications, and they will have to double-check the work before the planes can take to the skies.
“A team of FAA certification specialists observed rigorous tests we required Boeing to perform and devoted weeks to reviewing detailed analysis of the design changes to reach this decision,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.
Boeing — with the help of the FAA, National Transportation Safety Board and Japan Transport Safety Board — redesigned internal battery components to lessen the chance of a short circuit. A short circuit caused the fire aboard a Japan Airlines 787 flight in Boston, the incident that lead Japan and U.S. authorities to ground the 787s. The Boeing team also added a new venting system and better cell insulation to the design.
The FAA's approval removed the final barrier to reintroducing the 787 to the domestic airspace. Boeing officials are currently working to get domestic operators, which at this point only include United Airlines, up to speed with the changes. According to reports, United will begin 787 flights at the end of May.
"This is a comprehensive and permanent solution with multiple layers of protection," Boeing's Ray Conner said in a statement. "The ultimate layer of protection is the new enclosure, which will ensure that even if a battery fails, there is no impact to the airplane and no possibility of fire. We have the right solution in hand, and we are ready to go."
According to Boeing, new batteries and kits with needed parts for the new system will be shipped to customers around the world immediately. Boeing teams will then install the new battery and its component parts. Deliveries of 787s, complete with the new battery system, are expected to continue in the coming weeks.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still moving forward with its two-day hearing on lithium ion batteries, which is scheduled for April 23-24 in Washington. Access the hearing agenda here
. - Jon Ross