FAA, Boeing conclude 787 'safe' after battery problem

Bart Jansen

The Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing announced Wednesday that the Boeing 787 is "safe," after a comprehensive review of the Dreamliner because of initial problems with its lithium-ion battery.

"We do conclude that the aircraft is safe and meets its intended level of design and safety," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.

Boeing Dreamliner 787
Source: Boeing

The FAA review of the design, manufacture and assembly of the 787 began Jan. 11, 2013, four days after a lithium battery fire aboard an empty Japan Airlines plane parked in Boston. Then an All Nippon Airways flight made an emergency landing in Japan on Jan. 16, 2013, because of a smoldering battery.

But the review didn't focus on the battery. Huerta said it reviewed the overall plane and the resulting report made recommendations about inspecting and overseeing the manufacturer's suppliers better, based on where there was most risk.

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"We were looking more broadly from the very beginning," Huerta said.

The FAA grounded the first six planes in the U.S. for more than three months, which led to a worldwide hiatus in flights for 49 planes.

Without knowing precisely what caused the problem, Boeing developed more insulation between each battery's cells and a fireproof shell for the battery to starve it of oxygen if there is a fire.

Each plane carries two batteries, which will each be surrounded by a stainless steel box. Each battery will have a titanium venting tube to a hole in the fuselage to carry flammable electrolytes and smoke overboard if a battery fails.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the cause of the Boston fire. Another battery problem surfaced in January on a Japan Airlines plane parked in Tokyo, where Boeing discovered during routine maintenance that one cell of a battery released gas.

The Dreamliner is an innovative plane built largely from composite material, which makes it lighter and 20% more fuel efficient. Passengers like the plane's quietness in flight, and its larger windows equipped with electronic dimmers rather than shades.

Boeing delivered 65 of the planes last year and expects to deliver 110 this year. The company expects to sell 3,300 of the planes during the next 20 years.

—By Bart Jansen of USA Today