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Last updated: February 5, 2013 7:23 pm
Boeing is asking regulators for permission to start test flights of its troubled 787 Dreamliner jet, as it intensifies efforts to find the cause of battery failures on its newest and most sophisticated aircraft.
On Tuesday, the US manufacturer yesterday confirmed it had sought permission for the flights from the US Federal Aviation Administration – which had ordered the 787 to be grounded on January 16 because of safety concerns.
Regulators investigating the battery failures on the 787 have yet to identify a cause, and two people familiar with the situation said Boeing believed the test flights could assist with this task, as well as helping it to develop a fix for the problems.
The company said: “Boeing has submitted an application to conduct 787 test flights and it is currently under evaluation by the FAA.” It declined to comment further. The FAA said it was considering Boeing’s request.
But if regulators and the company can make no breakthrough in their battery investigations, the Dreamliner’s grounding could last months rather than weeks, two analysts warned.
The FAA and other regulators grounded the Dreamliner, which entered commercial service in 2011, after a 787 operated by All Nippon Airways made an emergency landing in Japan on January 16 when the crew reported a burning smell inside the cabin.
The lithium-ion battery that is used to start the 787’s main engines was found to be charred, and electrolysis gel had leaked.
This incident came nine days after a 787 on the ground at Boston airport in the US, operated by Japan Airlines, suffered a fire. The blaze was centred on the lithium-ion battery used to start the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit.
The two people familiar with Boeing’s work on a potential fix said that, among the possible solutions, the batteries might be strengthened to enable them to better withstand an internal overheating.
Japanese regulators investigating the battery failure on the ANA 787 said on Tuesday that they had found evidence of a “thermal runaway” – where a chemical reaction takes place inside equipment at high temperature.
The statement by the Japan Transportation Safety Board chimes with one by the US National Transportation Safety Board, which found signs of a thermal runaway on the 787 battery in the Japan Airlines aircraft.
Zafar Khan, analyst at Société Générale, said Boeing’s application to conduct test flights of the 787 could be driven by the need to gather data on the battery’s performance in a live rather than simulated situation.
“Perhaps they [Boeing] are having difficulty trying to establish the fault in a simulated situation,” he added.
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