US regulators on Friday approved a revamped battery system for Boeing Co’s 787 Dreamliner, a crucial step in returning the high-tech jet to service after it was grounded in January because its lithium-ion batteries overheated.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of design changes allows Boeing to immediately begin making repairs to the fleet of 50 planes owned by airlines around the world.
The FAA action all but ends a grounding that has cost Boeing an estimated US$600 million, halted deliveries and forced some airlines to lease alternative aircraft. Several airlines have said they will seek compensation from Boeing, potentially adding to the plane maker’s losses.
The agency also said the jet retained permission to fly up to 180 minutes over remote areas and oceans once US regulators allowed the Dreamliner to return to the skies. There had been talk of scaling back the approved range, known as ETOPS, which would have limited the use of the fuel-efficient jet.
Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said the 787’s promised benefits “remain fully intact” and reaction in the industry was joyous.
“This is a good step forward,” United Airlines said in a statement.
United is the only US carrier with 787s and plans to add them to its schedule starting May 31. Plans to launch service from Denver to Tokyo Narita are set for June 10, but depend on completing the modifications by then, it added.
With 10 teams already in place around the world and Friday’s approval to begin work, installation could move quickly and then “it’s up to the airlines” when they begin using the plane, Sinnett said.
The FAA said it will issue an “airworthiness directive” next week that formally lifts the US ban on passenger flights.