The 50 Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger jets that were pulled from service in January remain on the ground, and it appears they will remain that way until May.
Aviation regulators and airline companies around the world suspended their prized Dreamliners when overheating problems in the lithium-ion batteries that power the aircraft’s systems emerged. First there was a fire aboard a Japanese Airlines Dreamliner while it was on the ground at Boston’s Logan Airport. Then, just days later, another smoldering battery forced an All Nippon Airways plane to make an emergency landing while on a domestic route in Japan.
Boeing engineers and federal aviation officials, who approved Boeing’s lithium battery system, are now scrambling to figure out why the batteries are prone to overheating, potentially causing a fire. A solution, and the manufacturing of whatever replacement parts are needed to implement the solution, can’t come soon enough for Boeing and the airline companies that had Dreamliners in operation or were expecting delivery of new planes. The airlines are losing millions a day for each day their 787s sit on the tarmac, and the projected cost to Boeing is about $1 billion.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spokesperson Kelly Nantel told Newsweek: “The decision to allow the 787 fleet to return to flight will be made by the FAA. The NTSB continues to investigate the cause of the January 7 fire [in Boston] and to share our findings with both the FAA and Boeing.”
Although a redesign of the lithium batteries is daunting, some industry experts see reason to hope Boeing will strike on a solution soon. The lithium-ion batteries that replaced the heavy hydraulic systems in the Dreaminer were originally tested and certified safe 10 years ago, and a lot more has since been learned about how these batteries perform in flight. This knowledge will be applied in Boeing’s redesign of the batteries, their casings, and the auxiliary systems that monitor them and perform backup.
Some of the airline carriers that own Dreamliners have announced their intentions to resume flying the airplanes, indicating they may have been in talks with Boeing about the battery problems and timeline for repairs. United, the only American carrier with a Dreamliner, said it has removed the 787 from its schedule through June 5 for all but one of its routes. The company said it still plans to fly the 787 on its Denver-Tokyo route beginning May 12 as opposed to March 31, when the flights were originally scheduled.
Numerous reports emerged this week saying Chile-based LAN, which owns three Dreamliners, would resume flying them on June 30, but the airline has since refuted those reports, saying it would await the FAA’s approval before resuming flights.