TOKYO, March 15 (Kyodo) — Boeing Co. said Friday its 787 Dreamliner jets may be able to fly again within weeks, after being grounded worldwide for two months due to a series of battery-related incidents.
Given that Boeing is working closely with U.S. aviation authorities and the pace of progress in testing of the proposed remedy for the 787’s battery system, “It is reasonable to expect that we could be back up and go in weeks, not in months,” Michael Sinnett, vice president and chief project engineer of Boeing’s commercial airplane division, said at a press conference in Tokyo.
Sinnett also said Boeing’s investigation found around “80 potential things” that could lead to battery failure, including stress and moisture in a cell, and proposed solutions for the battery system can address all the possible causes of the incidents. But “we may never get to the single root cause,” he added.
Boeing said it chose Japan as the first location to explain the proposed solutions for the aircraft’s battery system as All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. — Japan’s two main airlines — are Boeing’s biggest Dreamliner customers and over 35 percent of components for the advanced jet are provided by Japanese manufacturers including GS Yuasa Corp., which produces the lithium-ion batteries used in the aircraft.
But Japanese transport minister Akihiro Ota said at a press conference on Friday that the transport ministry plans to conduct tests and analyses to review the safety of the aircraft together with the FAA, denying the possibility of an imminent approval of the resumption of 787 operations.
According to Boeing, its comprehensive solutions for the battery system include enhanced cell and battery build processes, design improvements for the battery and its charger, and the addition of battery enclosures that can safely release heat and pressure to eliminate the risk of fire.
“We are confident that they are the right ones,” said Ray Conner, president of Boeing’s commercial airplane division.
Boeing emphasized that no major aircraft structure was damaged in the incidents involving a 787 operated by ANA that made an emergency landing at Takamatsu Airport in western Japan on Jan. 16, and another 787 operated by JAL that also experienced battery-related trouble in Boston earlier in January.
Safety authorities have said there were signs in battery cells of a phenomenon known as a thermal runaway, an uncontrolled chemical reaction at high temperature that could cause the battery to ignite, but Boeing claims such unusual heat generation was not the case in either the Boston or Takamatsu incidents and the definition of the term depends on the perspective of the observer.
“Thermal runaway is defined in many different ways,” said Sinnett. “When someone…says there was thermal runaway, it is confusing to people who understand it at an airplane level, and it sounds contradictory. But taken from the perspective of someone looking at only an individual cell…it’s not incorrect, it’s just a different perspective,” he added.
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