April 22, 2013 6:46 pm

Boeing in the dark over 787 battery fires

Boeing on Monday admitted it may never be established why batteries failed on two of its high-tech Dreamliner aircraft, as work began to fix the safety problem that grounded the company’s wide-body passenger jet.

All Nippon Airways, the Japanese airline that is the largest operator of the 787 Dreamliner, on Monday said Boeing staff had begun modifications to the aircraft’s lithium-ion battery system.

The work comes after the US Federal Aviation Administration on Friday approved Boeing’s proposed fix for the battery, in a move that is likely to mean the Dreamliner resumes commercial service in May or June.

The FAA and other regulators insisted on the Dreamliner’s grounding in January because of safety concerns about the battery.

The battery on a 787 operated by Japan Airlines caught fire while at a US airport. An ANA Dreamliner had to make an emergency landing in Japan after one of its batteries burned.

Larry Loftis, Boeing’s general manager on the 787 Dreamliner programme, told reporters in London: “It is possible we will never know the specific root cause [of the two battery failures].”

The US National Transportation Safety Board and the Japan Transport Safety Board have so far not reached conclusions about the two battery failures, and the NTSB will hold two days of hearings into the Japan Airlines’ 787 fire starting on Tuesday.

Mr Loftis rejected suggestions that a failure to establish the root cause might contribute to a public backlash against the 787, saying he would happily put his family on the aircraft following a comprehensive review of the battery failures that culminated in the fix approved by the FAA.

Boeing halted deliveries of 787s to airlines and leasing companies after the January grounding, but Mr Loftis said these would resume “within weeks”.

He also said Boeing was planning to stick to its plans to double production of the Dreamliner this year, from five per month to 10, in spite of the grounding.

Mr Loftis added the cost of making modifications to the 787 battery system should be “fairly small”, but declined to provide figures ahead of Boeing’s first-quarter earnings on Wednesday.

Boeing is expected to also face compensation claims from at least some of the airlines that operate the 787 that have encountered disruption to their schedules because of the Dreamliner grounding. ANA said on Monday it may seek compensation.

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