Boeing Dreamliner takes first test flight since battery trouble

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michal Conger

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner took to the air on Monday to test its newly redesigned battery, the first 787 flight since battery troubles sidelined the fleet in January.

The lithium-ion battery that debuted in the Dreamliner in late 2011 was designed to run cleaner than its predecessors, using stored electricity in addition to fossil fuels. According to Boeing, the Dreamliner runs on 20 percent less fuel than other airplanes in its class.

But after overheating caused one battery to catch fire on the tarmac in Boston, and caused another to start smoking and force an emergency landing in Japan, the battery was subjected to closer scrutiny.

Boeing’s new design is intended to contain any fires by keeping them from spreading between the battery cells. The company added insulation around battery cells as wells as a steel casing on the outside to prevent fires, the Associated Press reports.

Today’s two-hour test flight took off from Paine Field near Seattle and was intended to “demonstrate that the new battery system performs as intended during flight conditions,” Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel told AP.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said in February the board was reviewing the design and manufacturing of Boeing’s batteries to find the possible source of the January fires. So far, the board hasn’t found a definite cause.

“Our task now is to see if enough — and appropriate — layers of defense and adequate checks were built into the design, certification and manufacturing of this battery,” Hersman said in February.

The NTSB’s assessment differs from that of Boeing, which insisted its lithium ion battery was safe. During testing, the company found no evidence of cell-to-cell propagation or fire, according to the NTSB — but both of these occurred in the Japan Airlines fire.

The battery fiasco has meant a costly delay for Boeing, which bumped back deliveries of new Dreamliners to Norwegian Air and Thompson Airways last month. The company is losing an estimated $50 million each week the 787 is grounded, according to Reuters.

Boeing has one more test flight to complete, and said it hopes to have its Dreamliners back in use within weeks, AP reports.


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