Boeing will conduct just one test flight of the redesigned battery system in its Dreamliner passenger jet, executives said at a press conference Friday.
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration approved Boeing's plan to implement and test a set of solutions to prevent future failures of its lithium ion battery system, and eliminate the possibility of a fire onboard.
The Dreamliner has been out of service since the FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive on January 16, following two incidents in quick succession where the battery system failed.
The "comprehensive and robust" three-part plan calls for stopping battery cells from short-circuiting in the first place, preventing such failure from spreading throughout the battery, and making sure the plane is not damaged if all that happens anyway, with a sealed battery enclosure.
It does not address the root cause of the failures, which is still unknown, and likely to remain that way.
The extra weight of new equipment also eliminates the biggest advantage of lithium ion batteries: Because they are especially powerful, they can be lighter and smaller, and therefore make the Dreamliner more fuel efficient.
The single flight will be accompanied by extensive testing on the ground, which Boeing says is actually more effective than testing in the air.
Boeing Vice President Ron Hinderberger told the Chicago Sun Times:
In our lab, we are actually able to not only simulate the airplane environment, but we are able to do so with a much greater degree of instrumentation and monitoring than we could on the airplane. That combined with the fact that the battery really doesn’t provide much from a functionality standpoint in flight led us and the FAA to confidently conclude that the single flight test was appropriate for demonstrating compliance to this change.
Boeing says the testing process is now about one third complete and shold be finished within a few weeks. The final decision to return the Dreamliner to flight in the United States rests with the FAA.
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