Boeing Co. Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner said Monday the company’s solution for the 787 jet’s battery problem can be swiftly implemented and the Dreamliners can be flying again soon if the Federal Aviation Administration gives Boeing approval to go ahead.
“So much depends on where the FAA goes,” Conner said. “Hopefully they will agree with the certification plan and then we’ll go into testing.
“Once we get that, this will move really fast in terms of being able to get the airplanes back into the air.
“We’ve come up with a very comprehensive solution to the battery issue,” Conner said at the JPMorgan aviation conference in New York. “We would not go forward unless we felt like we had it nailed.”
Boeing is preparing kits with the parts needed to retrofit the in-service fleet of 50 airplanes that have been grounded around the world for more than six weeks. Some of the 787s are made at a new plant in North Charleston.
“We are prepared. We are ready to go,” Conner said. “It’s a matter of getting the kits in place and off and running.”
After those 50 jets are retrofitted, he said, Boeing will quickly apply the fix to the undelivered airplanes now grounded in Washington state, and “we’ll be off and into the delivery cycle.”
Conner conceded that this optimistic outlook hangs upon the FAA’s call as to whether the fix is comprehensive enough.
Boeing is maintaining its production schedule for now, he said, and by mid-year will increase the 787 assembly rate from 5 per month now to 7 per month.
“That could change if things go sideways with FAA,” Conner said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Answering a slew of questions on the lithium-ion battery problem, Conner tried to dispel some passenger worries by stressing that these batteries “are not used in flight. They are a backup.”
And he said Boeing’s engineers are “very comfortable” with the lithium-ion battery technology, even though rival jetmaker Airbus — chiefly to ensure that its schedule is not affected by any potential new battery-related regulations — has chosen to switch back to traditional nickel-cadmium batteries for its forthcoming A350 airplane.
“Through all the analysis we’ve done, we couldn’t see any reason to switch back,” Conner said. “We’ve got a solution in place that addresses all the potential factors” in causing the battery fires that grounded the plane.
He said a team of about 200 Boeing engineers has worked on the fix, clocking about 200,000 hours of analysis and testing, in consultation with “a very impressive outside team” of top battery experts.
The FAA is expected to give its initial response to Boeing’s proposed fix this week.