Dreamliner test flight lands safely

DREAM ENDING::Boeing’s 787s have been grounded due to battery problems, but the CEOs of the US firm and ANA said their being on the plane proved its safety

AFP, TOKYO

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 - Page 15

A Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner test flight with top Boeing and All Nippon Airways (ANA) chiefs aboard landed at Tokyo International Airport yesterday, three months after the global fleet of 787s was grounded, as airlines seek to reassure passengers the planes are safe.

The test flight by ANA, one of the largest customers of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners, came a day after Ethiopian Airlines became the first carrier to resume flying the 787s that have been grounded worldwide since January due to battery problems.

ANA chairman Shinichiro Ito and Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Ray Conner descended the stairs of the Dreamliner, which landed at the airport at about 11am after a two-hour test flight.

“After three months, it’s a terrific feeling to have ANA 787 back in the air and I am very pleased to say that it was a perfect flight on a perfect day,” Conner said at a news conference. “As evident by the fact that we are here today, we are very confident in the solution that we developed ... and I can tell you that we [would] put our family on this airplane on any day of a week and any time.”

ANA has the world’s largest fleet of the next-generation planes and the presence of both executives on the test flight underscored their desire to put the damaging crisis behind them.

However, it could still be at least a month before the Japanese carrier can complete all the battery fixes and get its planes in the air.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators grounded the worldwide Dreamliner fleet in mid-January after failures of the lithium-ion batteries on the jetliner caused a fire on board one parked plane at a Boston airport and forced the emergency landing of an ANA-operated aircraft in Japan.

Following months of investigations, the FAA on Thursday issued formal approval of Boeing’s battery fix, with Ethiopian Airlines on Saturday becoming the first carrier to resume using the aircraft in a flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya.

Speaking in Tokyo on Saturday, Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s chief project manager for the Dreamliner program, said the Japanese test flight showed the faith that the US aircraft manufacturer had in the battery fix.

“What it represents is ... the depth of confidence that Ray Conner has in the series of design solutions we have brought forward,” Sinnett told reporters.

Although the exact cause of the battery failures has yet to be pinpointed — as emphasized by the FAA on Thursday — Sinnett insisted that the refitted planes were safe to fly.

“Even if we missed the root cause, we have identified 80 potential causal factors and we have addressed all of them in the design,” he said.

The battery solution eliminated the potential for fire and heat to get into the airplane, he said.