The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved Boeing’s design for modifications to the 787 battery system, a key step in returning the grounded Boeing widebody type to service.
These changes are designed to address risks at the battery cell level, the battery level and the aircraft level, according to the FAA.
In the week beginning April 22, the FAA will issue instructions to operators for making changes to their Boeing 787 aircraft and will publish in the U.S. Federal Register (the official record of U.S. government rulemaking) the final directive that will allow the 787 to return to service with the battery system modifications. The airworthiness directive will take effect upon publication.
The FAA will require airlines that operate the Boeing 787 to install containment and venting systems for the main and auxiliary system batteries, and to replace the batteries and their chargers with modified components.
“Safety of the traveling public is our number one priority. These changes to the 787 battery will ensure the safety of the aircraft and its passengers,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“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,” says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
To assure proper installation of the new design, the FAA says it will monitor closely all modifications of Boeing 787 aircraft in the U.S. fleet. At present United Airlines is the only U.S. operator of the type, other 787 customers such as American Airlines and Delta Air Lines not yet having received their first deliveries.
The FAA also says it will stage teams of inspectors at the modification locations. Any return to service of the modified Boeing 787 will only take place after the FAA accepts the work.
As the certifying authority, the FAA says it will continue to support other authorities around the world as they finalize their own acceptance procedures.
Boeing says the FAA’s approval on April 19 of battery system improvements for the 787 Dreamliner clears the way for the manufacturer and its customers to install the approved modifications and will lead to a return to service and resumption of new-production deliveries.
“FAA approval clears the way for us and the airlines to begin the process of returning the 787 to flight with continued confidence in the safety and reliability of this game-changing new airplane,” says Jim McNerney, chairman, president and CEO of The Boeing Company. “The promise of the 787 and the benefits it provides to airlines and their passengers remain fully intact as we take this important step forward with our customers and program partners.”
0Boeing notes that the FAA’s action will permit the return to service of 787s in the United States upon installation of the improvements. For 787s based and modified outside the United States, local regulatory authorities provide the final approval on return to service.
Approval of the improved 787 battery system was granted by the FAA after the agency conducted an extensive review of certification tests.
The tests were designed to validate that individual components of the battery, as well as its integration with the charging system and a new enclosure, all performed as expected during normal operation and under failure conditions, according to Boeing. Testing was conducted under the supervision of the FAA over a month-long period beginning in early March.
“The FAA set a high bar for our team and our solution,” says McNerney.
Boeing, in collaboration with its supplier partners and in support of the investigations of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Japan Transport Safety Board, conducted extensive engineering analysis and testing to develop a thorough understanding of the factors that could have caused the 787’s batteries to fail and overheat in two incidents in January.
According to Boeing, the team spent more than 100,000 hours developing test plans, building test rigs, conducting tests and analyzing the results to ensure the proposed solutions met all requirements.
Boeing also engaged a team of more than a dozen battery experts from across multiple industries, government, academia and consumer safety to review and validate the company’s assumptions, findings, proposed solution and test plan.
The improved battery system includes design changes to both prevent and isolate a fault should it occur. In addition, improved production, operating and testing processes have been implemented. The new steel enclosure system is designed to keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the aircraft or even being noticed by passengers.
“This is a comprehensive and permanent solution with multiple layers of protection,” says Ray Conner, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ president and CEO. “The ultimate layer of protection is the new enclosure, which will ensure that even if a battery fails, there is no impact to the airplane and no possibility of fire. We have the right solution in hand, and we are ready to go.”
Adds Conner: “We are all very grateful to our customers for their patience during the past several months,” said Conner. “We know it hasn’t been easy on them to have their 787s out of service and their deliveries delayed. We look forward to helping them get back into service as quickly as possible.”
Boeing has deployed teams to locations around the world to begin installing improved battery systems on 787s. Kits with the parts needed for the new battery systems are staged for shipment and new batteries also will be shipped immediately.
Teams have been assigned to customer locations to install the new systems. Boeing says aircraft will be modified in approximately the order they were delivered.
Boeing will also begin installing the changes on new aircraft at the company’s two 787 final-assembly plants, at Everett in Washington state and at North Charleston in South Carolina. The manufacturer expects deliveries of new aircraft to resume in the weeks ahead.
Despite the disruption in deliveries which began in January, Boeing expects to complete all planned 2013 deliveries by the end of the year.
Boeing also says it expects that the 787 battery issue will have no significant impact to its 2013 financial guidance.