On Friday, the FAA announced the approval of Boeing’s design modifications to the 787’s battery systems, clearing the way for the implementation of the changes. Shortly thereafter, Boeing deployed support teams – over 300 specialists – to aircraft that had already entered service prior to the January 16th grounding. The changes will clear the way for the 787 to return to the skies following the FAA’s issuance of formal instructions and a formal airworthiness directive in the Federal Register.
A formal AD and approval would clear the way for US operators of the 787 to resume flying, but only United Airlines falls into this category. United would like to resume using the aircraft by the end of May.
Consequently, this does not mean that all 787s will be back in the sky right away, as foreign regulators must also approve the changes, but two carriers in particular, Ethiopian Airlines and Qatar Airways, have indicated that they will resume revenue flying of the 787 as soon as possible, possibly even by the end of April.
Typically, foreign regulators follow suit when the FAA issues an AD, and that will likely be the case again. Japan’s two major carriers, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, have taken delivery of the largest number of 787s thus far (17 for ANA and 7 for JAL), so an announcement from Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) is just as important as the FAA’s AD. There has been speculation that the JCAB may demand more detailed and frequent inspections of 787 battery systems than the FAA.
Seen here is LOT’s SP-LRC (msn: 35940), which was used to test the modifications and was therefore the first 787 to have the new design changes implemented. Two other new-build planes still on the flight line, ANA’s JA818A (msn: 42243, seen waiting for takeoff on the bottom left), and another for China Southern, have also reportedly had the full modification installed. This picture was taken just a few days before the grounding, when these aircraft were in pre-delivery testing.
The fix involves fitting the 787 with new internal battery components, designed to minimize the chances of short circuits and featuring better insulation of the cells, within a new containment and ventilation system. The containment system is designed to eliminate both the risk of fire and electrolyte spills as well as potential damage to the electrical/electronics bays. The modification takes 4-5 days to perform per aircraft.
All of this is good news, but it also comes just a couple of days before a scheduled NTSB hearing related to the cause of the January 7th fire and smoke incident at Boston’s Logan International Airport aboard a parked (and empty) Japan Airlines 787. The hearings will include witnesses from Boeing, the FAA, and Japanese battery manufacturer GS Yuasa.
© Photographer: Alex Kwanten