Business

March 6, 2013

Boeing ready to move on 787 fix, if U.S. approves

Boeing said March 4 that it is set to move quickly to get its 787s back in the air if it gets U.S. federal approval for a fix for the batteries that have grounded the planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering a plan that Boeing submitted on Feb. 22 for fixing the batteries. The FAA has said it expects its experts to recommend this week whether to accept the plan.

Ray Conner, who runs Boeing’s commercial airplane unit, described the process to industry analysts at a J.P. Morgan aviation conference in New York.

The FAA certifies parts used on planes, and changes can prompt the need for a part’s re-certification. The agency has to first certify Boeing’s fix, then it has to approve testing for the fix, Conner said. Then Boeing will be able to install the fix on the 50 787s that have been delivered so far.

Once it gets FAA permission, “this will move really fast in terms of being able to get the airplanes back into the air,” Conner said. “We are prepared, we are ready to go.”

Conner didn’t say how long he thought all that would take.

Boeing’s fix has been described as a long-term solution aimed at making sure that short-circuiting in one battery cell can’t spread to another.

The 787 has been grounded since Jan. 16 after one plane had a battery fire, and a smoking battery on another plane forced an emergency landing.

Deliveries of 787s are halted, but Boeing is still building them. It’s making five per month now, and is moving to seven per month, on its way to 10 by a month by the end of the year. Boeing is still following its plan to speed up production.

“Obviously that could change if something were to go sideways with the FAA,” Conner said.

Boeing has teams working on the speedup and some 200 engineers working on the battery fix. “I’m kind of working both at this point in time,” Conner said. “That’s why I only live on four hours of sleep a night.”

Boeing is about to begin building the 787-9, a longer version of the plane it makes now, with more seats.

And it has been tentatively planning to make a longer-still 787-10 if there’s enough interest.

“Clearly having the fleet down right now has slowed things down a bit,” Conner said, referring to the 787-10. “I think we would have been in much better shape from having people cross the finish line” if not for the battery problem. He said, however, he thinks interest is strong enough that Boeing will soon be able to commit to build the plane.

 




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