The FAA has approved flight testing of what Boeing hopes will be a permanent fix for the lithium ion batteries on its 787 airliners. Two test aircraft have been cleared for flight to test a three-part solution to the issue that has grounded the fleet since the middle of January. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the aircraft won't carry a passenger until the fix is proven through a "comprehensive series of tests." "We won't allow the plane to return to service unless we're satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers," LaHood said in a statement. It appears Boeing has opted to fix the existing setup rather than recertify a new system and it involves a reworking of the internal workings of the battery.
The FAA said Boeing's plan calls for "redesign of the internal battery components to minimize initiation of a short circuit within the battery, better insulation of the cells and the addition of a new containment and venting system." Quality control on the batteries will be tightened and the charging system tuned to tighten the voltage range. FAA inspectors will be present for the testing, in contrast to initial certification of the electrical system, which was handled in-house by Boeing. It's not clear when the test flights will begin or how long they will last but airlines that were counting on 787s for the busy summer travel season are making other plans. Leasing companies report brisk business for 767s and A330s.