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Boeing To Fix Battery Problems On 787 Dreamliners Within Next Few Weeks

Aerospace and defense giant Boeing Co. (BA) said Thursday that its comprehensive set of improvements to the lithium-ion batteries on 787 Dreamliners could be ready for initial installation within the next few weeks.

The announcement comes after its plans to test and certify improvements to the battery system on its now grounded 787 Dreamliner fleet received approval on Wednesday from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or FAA.

"We are following all of the necessary protocols to get our new design fully approved and properly installed so that we can help our customers start flying as soon as possible. We're simultaneously moving out on an effort to resume deliveries but completing our certification work and getting the delivered fleet flying again is our first priority," said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner.

The company noted that the improvements include enhanced production and operating processes, improved battery design features and a new stainless steel battery enclosure, which will be installed in airplanes in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, the company has made changes to the battery itself, the battery charging unit and the battery installation. This includes the addition of several layers of additional safety features to the lithium-ion batteries such as installing new thermal and electrical insulation.

Boeing said its move will allow operators that had grounded Dreamliner commercial flights to resume operations as soon as testing is complete and the FAA and other international regulators grant their final approval.

Meanwhile, the company noted that tests to gain FAA approval of the battery enhancements has already started, with the FAA's permission. However, the FAA could still demand changes in Boeing's new battery design if problems develop in the laboratory and flight tests.

"As soon as our testing is complete and we obtain regulatory approvals, we will be positioned to help our customers implement these changes and begin the process of getting their 787s back in the air. Passengers can be assured that we have completed a thorough review of the battery system and made numerous improvements that we believe will make it a safer, more reliable battery system," Conner added.

On January 15, the FAA temporarily grounded all Boeing 787 Dreamliner's operated by U.S. carriers, issuing an emergency airworthiness directive to address a potential battery fire risk. United Airlines, a subsidiary of United Continental Holdings, Inc. (UAL), is currently the only U.S. airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service. There are 50 787s in service worldwide.

Following the FAA grounding, more countries also grounded the aircraft until safety is assured, including Indian flag carrier Air India, Chile's LAN Airlines, and Japan's two main airline groups, All Nippon Airways or ANA (ALNPY, ALNPF) and Japan Airlines Corp. (JALFQ, JALSQ).

Chicago, Illinois-based Boeing's much awaited 787 Dreamliner made its first commercial flight in late-2011, following a series of production delays that put deliveries more than three years behind schedule. The 787 was touted as Boeing's future, as it is the company's most fuel-efficient airliner and the world's first major airliner to use composite materials for most of its construction.

The light weight Dreamliner planes have been in high demand in commercial aviation industry, especially in Japan, since the launch in December 2009. Boeing made its first delivery of the 787-8 to ANA, one of its important customers, in September 2011.

The company claims that the "super-efficient airplane," capable of carrying 210-250 passengers, uses 20 percent less fuel than similarly sized airplanes, and travels at a similar speed as today's fastest wide bodies. But the series of recent incidents, including a battery fire and fuel leaks, were a setback for the U.S. aircraft giant.

BA closed Thursday's regular trading session at $84.62, down $0.13 or 0.15% on a volume of 5.03 million shares.

by RTT Staff Writer

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