Keep your eyes on the sky: Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is getting ready to take flight again. The planes, grounded for more than three months now, will be ready to fly soon based on changes Boeing has submitted to the FAA for the architecture of the battery systems and their operation. The FAA approved the plans last Friday and expects to issue a formal set of guidelines to the airlines so that the approved changes can be implemented and the planes returned to operation. Ultimately this FAA approval marks a huge step forward for Boeing, for the airlines, and for passengers.
In a statement FAA Administrator Michael Huerta described the significance of the redesign testing and validation, saying "A team of FAA certification specialists observed rigorous tests we required Boeing to perform and devoted weeks to reviewing detailed analysis of the design changes to reach this decision." The FAA approval is unqualified, meaning the planes will be permitted to operate the same long-haul routes they were authorized for prior to the grounding; previous speculation suggested they might be restricted. The testing of the systems has been on-going since mid-March when the FAA approved the test plan for the batteries.
The changes will involve replacing the batteries and their charging systems, as well as changes to the way the batteries are mounted in the planes and how they will vent should there be future issues. Implementing the adjustments will take a bit of time for each plane but getting the planes back in the sky should not take too much longer. Boeing has reportedly dispatched teams to as many as 10 locations around the world where the planes have sat since the initial grounding order.
Given the uncertainty of the timeline for returning the planes to service, different airlines have taken different approaches to scheduling flights on the 787s. Dreamliner launch partner ANA is the first to see planes fitted with the new system according to a Reuters report. They expect to operate a number of test flights without passengers before returning the planes to service and those could start as soon as this weekend. United Airlines previously indicated that they will resume domestic service with the planes at the end of May and international service on June 10th when they launch service between Denver and Tokyo. It would not be surprising if the planes saw service prior to that, assuming that the repair work is completed in the coming weeks. Doha-based Qatar Airlines had previously indicated that they expect their Dreamliners to be flying by the end of April. That might be a bit aggressive but not completely unreasonable. The exact date they return to the skies is not yet certain, but it will be soon and it should be a good thing for everyone involved.
Photo credits: 787 Dreamliner via Shutterstock