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Boeing receives federal approval for battery test

Last updated on: March 13, 2013 11:54 IST

Boeing receives federal approval for battery test

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Lalit K Jha in Washington

Aviation major Boeing has received federal approval to its plan to test the battery system of its 'Dreamliner' planes, which were grounded early this year after a fire in one of the aircraft due to fault in the battery system.

A successful completion of the test will pave the way for commercial resumption of Boeing 787 flights.

"Our top priority is the integrity of our products and the safety of the passengers and crews who fly on them," Boeing chairman, president and CEO Jim McNerney said in a statement announcing the approval his company received from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

He said a Boeing team is working round the clock to understand the issues and develop a solution based on extensive analysis and testing following the events that occurred in January.

"Today's approval from the FAA is a critical and welcome milestone toward getting the fleet flying again and continuing to deliver on the promise of the 787," he said.

The Boeing approval includes three layers of improvements, said Ray Conner, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

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Image: Passengers take pictures as they board the plane at Narita airport in Narita, east of Tokyo.
Photographs: Reuters.
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"First, we've improved design features of the battery to prevent faults from occurring and to isolate any that do.

Second, we've enhanced production, operating and testing processes to ensure the highest levels of quality and performance of the battery and its components," he said.

"Third, in an unlikely event of a battery failure, we've introduced a new enclosure system that will keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or being noticed by passengers," Conner said.

Design feature improvements for the battery include addition of new thermal and electrical insulation materials and other changes, the Boeing said, adding the enhanced production and testing processes include more stringent screening of battery cells prior to battery assembly.

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Operational improvements focus on tightening of the system's voltage range.  A key feature of the new enclosure is that it ensures no fire can develop in the enclosure or in the battery.

Additional details of the new design will be provided by Boeing in the days ahead, the company said. Boeing made its certification plan proposal to the FAA in late February.

On Tuesday the agency agreed that the proposed changes and the detailed test plans address the conditions that resulted in the suspension of 787 operations.

In addition, FAA also granted Boeing permission to begin flight test activities on two airplanes -- line number 86, which will conduct tests to demonstrate that the comprehensive set of solutions work as intended in flight and on the ground, and ZA005, which is scheduled to conduct engine improvement tests unrelated to the battery issue.

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Additional testing may be scheduled as needed. The certification plan calls for a series of tests that show how the improved battery system will perform in normal and abnormal conditions.

The test plans were written based on the FAA's standards as well as applicable guidelines published by the Radio Technical Commission on Aeronautics (RTCA), an advisory committee that provides recommendations on ways to meet regulatory requirements.

The RTCA guidelines were not available when the original 787 battery certification plan was developed, it said.

"We have a great deal of confidence in our solution set and the process for certifying it," said Conner.

"Before 787s return to commercial service, our customers and their passengers want assurance that the improvements being introduced will make this great airplane even better. That's what this test program will do," Corner said.


Photographs: Robert Sorbo/Reuters.
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