Dreamliner Set to Fly in a Week

TOKYO/LONDON (Reuters) —

Boeing began installing reinforced lithium-ion battery systems on five 787 jets in Japan on Monday, starting a process that should make the first commercial Dreamliners ready to fly again in about a week.

Boeing’s Dreamliners have been grounded since regulators ordered all 50 planes out of the skies in mid-January after batteries on two of them overheated. U.S. regulators approved a new battery design on Friday, clearing the way for installation.

The grounding has cost Boeing an estimated $600 million, halted deliveries and forced some airlines to lease alternative aircraft. Several airlines have said they will seek compensation from Boeing, potentially adding to the plane maker’s losses. Investors expect to learn more about the costs when Boeing reports second-quarter earnings on Wednesday.

The first five jets to receive the strengthened battery system belong to All Nippon Airways, which launched the first commercial Dreamliner service in 2011.

“Our first priority is to get the existing fleet back into the air,” Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager of the 787 program at Boeing, told reporters.

Ten teams of some 30 engineers each were dispatched by Boeing worldwide to install the stronger battery casing and other components designed to prevent a repeat of the meltdowns that led to the first U.S. fleet grounding in 34 years.

The plan approved by the Federal Aviation Administration calls for Boeing to encase the lithium-ion batteries in a steel box, install new battery chargers, and add a duct to vent gases directly outside the aircraft in the event of overheating.

European authorities are expected to follow suit in approving the battery design, a spokesman for Europe’s aviation safety body said.

ANA is the world’s biggest operator of the lightweight carbon-composite aircraft, with 17 of the planes. The next-biggest is Japan Airlines Co with seven jets, followed by United Airlines and Air India with six each.

Although the plane is deemed safe to fly, investigators in the U.S. and Japan have yet to unravel what caused a 787 battery onboard an ANA jet in Japan and one on another JAL Dreamliner parked at Boston’s Logan Airport to overheat.

The National Transportation Safety Board is due to hold public hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday to advance its probe into the cause of a fire that destroyed a 787 battery in Boston in January.

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