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Boeing asks FAA for OK to begin 787 Dreamliner test flights

February 04, 2013|By W.J. Hennigan
(Koji Sasahara / Associated…)

Aerospace giant Boeing Co. has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to let it begin test flights on its grounded 787 Dreamliner passenger jet.

The new plane has been grounded since Jan. 16 by the FAA because of numerous incidents and high-profile fires involving the onboard lithium-ion batteries. Investigators around the world are looking into the matter.

The company disclosed its request for in-flight testing Monday in an email.

“Boeing has submitted an application to conduct test flights, and it is currently under evaluation by the FAA,” said Marc Birtel, a company spokesman, who would not comment further.

The FAA is reportedly looking into Boeing request, but would not comment.

The 787's battery systems were called into question Jan. 7 when a smoldering fire was discovered on the underbelly of a Dreamliner in Boston operated by Japan Airlines after the 183 passengers and 11 crew members had deplaned at the gate.

The National Transportation Safety Board is examining what went wrong. On Friday, the NTSB released its seventh update on the investigation into the lithium-ion battery systems. It said it has begun CT scanning the battery cells to examine their internal condition.

In addition, the NTSB disclosed that a battery expert from the Department of Energy joined the investigative team to lend additional expertise to ongoing testing.

In a separate incident Jan. 16 involving a 787 operated by All Nippon Airways in southwestern Japan, smoke was seen swirling from the right side of the cockpit after an emergency landing related to the plane's electrical systems. All 137 passengers and crew members were evacuated from the aircraft and slid down the 787's emergency slides.

The Japan Transport Safety Board, the country's version of the NTSB, is heading the investigation into All Nippon's emergency landing and reported fire.

No passengers or crew members were reported injured in the incidents. But the recent events have become a public relations nightmare for Boeing, which has long heralded the Dreamliner as a forerunner of 21st century air travel.

The 787, a twin-aisle aircraft that can seat 210 to 290 passengers, is the first large commercial jet with more than half its structure made of composite materials rather than aluminum sheets. It's also the first large commercial aircraft that extensively uses electrically powered systems involving lithium-ion batteries.

Boeing's lithium-ion batteries are made in Japan by Kyoto-based GS Yuasa Corp.

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