Boeing (BA) anticipates having its fleet of 787s in the air "within weeks," guarded with a revamped battery pack that it says will eliminate the chances of a fire.
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The design includes improved insulation of cells, encasing the lithium-ion batteries in stainless steel cases and a new venting system.
The Chicago-based jet maker held a briefing about its battery fix in Tokyo on Friday just days after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approved of Boeing’s proposal. Boeing called the FAA approval a “significant and important milestone” in the process of getting the Dreamliner back to service.
787 Chief Engineer Mike Sinnett said the company has been testing the new features for about six weeks and is now about a third of the way through the certification process.
"If we look at the normal process and the way in which we work with the FAA, and we look at the testing that's ahead of us, it is reasonable to expect we could be back up and going in weeks, not months," he said at the Friday morning briefing. “The testing has been very positive.”
The Civil Aviation Bureau, however, said that might be an overly optimistic estimate.
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Boeing said it will complete the certification testing and analysis and turn those reports in to the FAA. It will then seek certification of the design and modify airplanes in the fleet.
“Our plan is to dedicate the hardware for fleet installations to get our customers back up into the air," Sinnett said. "The airlines will be able to return to flight and once that’s complete we’ll use these batteries in our production system to resume production flight tests at Boeing and resume, ultimately, deliveries to our customer."
The new battery has multiple layers of protection and redundancy -- it can reportedly withstand 80 possible malfunctions -- to ensure that no single failure dangers the airplane or occupants.
The fix Boeing is testing includes battery and charger design improvements and a battery enclosure, which Boeing said eliminates the potential of a fire. It also tightened the voltage range and enhanced production tests for cells and batteries.
The jet maker, which has spent more than 200,000 hours of engineering design and analysis in an effort to understand and correct the battery problems, said it is “confident” these are the right solutions.
It continues to believe the 787 is one of the safest aircraft Boeing have ever built, however the root cause of the fires remains unknown.
All 50 in-service 787s were grounded by the FAA in January following a series of battery meltdowns that ultimately triggered an emergency landing in Tokyo. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board investigations remain ongoing, as do those by Japanese regulators.