FAA approves Boeing 787 battery design changes

by: Rick Price Updated:

SEATTLE —

The FAA took the next step in returning the Boeing 787 to flight by approving Boeing's design for modifications to the 787 battery system. 

The FAA said that next week, it will issue instructions  for making changes to 787 and will publish in the Federal Register the final directive that will allow the 787 to return to service with the battery system modifications.

The FAA will require airlines that operate the 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," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The FAA said it will closely monitor modifications of the 787 and will stage teams of inspectors locations where the planes are modified.

Any modified 787 will only return to service after the FAA accepts the work.

Boeing’s Marc Birtel told KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Rick Price in an e-mail that Boeing's aircraft on the ground crew, a team that specializes in fast response around the world to fix customers’ jets which are grounded with mechanical problems, would do the work of retrofitting the 50 planes currently in the world fleet with the new system, with its heavy duty battery boxes and hot gas vents.

Birtel told Price, “Ten integrated teams of highly specialized Boeing experts are scheduled to perform the work.  The modification process for each airplane takes approximately five days.” 

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.  Airplanes will be modified in approximately the order they were delivered.

Time is of the essence – it’s costing Boeing, and its customer airlines, a great deal of money and prestige for every moment those planes are grounded, as they have been since January 16, when an ANA 787 made an emergency landing with a smoking lithium-ion battery.

 It was just 10 days after an unoccupied JAL 787 had a battery fire at a gate in Boston.  World aviation authorities reacted, and 50 planes started their long sit.