United restarts 787 flights after battery fix
05/20/2013 8:15 PM
05/20/2013 8:16 PM
United Airlines is again flying the 787, four months after smoldering batteries forced the plane to be grounded worldwide.
A United 787 flight took off from Houston on Monday morning and landed in Chicago.
United Continental Holdings Inc. has six 787s. Battery problems on planes owned by other airlines prompted the grounding. Federal authorities cleared the planes to fly again on April 19.
United plans to use its 787s on routes from Houston to other U.S. cities this week. It plans to restart international flights on June 10.
The Federal Aviation Administration lifted its grounding order last month, and Ethiopian Airlines resumed 787 flights on April 27.
Boeing never found the root cause of the smoldering batteries, but it has said that it believes its fix covers all possible causes.
The incidents never caused any serious injuries. But the January grounding embarrassed Boeing and disrupted schedules at the eight airlines that were flying the planes. The company had delivered 50 of the planes worldwide, including several made at its new plant in North Charleston.
United is the only U.S. airline currently flying the 787. The grounding forced it to delay planned international flights and reduced first-quarter earnings by $11 million. Other airlines, including Japan Airlines and South America’s LATAM Airlines Group, also said profit took a hit. LATAM said it still had to make payments on the plane and pay for crews and maintenance. It expects to resume flying soon.
Passengers Monday didn’t appear to be too worried. “We saw strong demand for the flight from the first weekend it opened for sale,” said United spokeswoman Christen David.
United is planning to use 787s on shorter domestic flights before resuming international flights on June 10 with new Denver-to-Tokyo service as well as temporary Houston-to-London flights. It’s adding flights to Tokyo, Shanghai, and Lagos, Nigeria, in August.
Those long international flights are the main reason the 787 exists. Its medium size and fuel efficiency are a good fit for long routes. Starting with shorter domestic flights “will give us a period to ramp up full 787 operations,” David said.
United Continental Holdings Inc. now has six 787s. United has said it expected to have four fixed by Monday, with the other two getting their batteries modified in coming days.
The 787 uses more electricity than any other jet. And it makes more use of lithium-ion batteries than other jets to provide power for things like flight controls and a backup generator when its engines are shut down. Each 787 has two of the batteries.
Since Boeing could not figure out the root cause of the battery incidents. Instead, it redesigned the battery and its charger. The idea was to eliminate all of the possible causes, 787 chief engineer Mike Sinnett said in an online chat on Thursday where he and a Boeing test pilot took questions about the plane.
The changes include more heat insulation between each cell and charging the battery to a lower maximum voltage.
In addition to United and Ethiopian, Air India and Qatar have also restarted flights. All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines have both said they expect to restart 787 flights on June 1.
Boeing said that as of Sunday, 45 planes have gotten the battery fix out of 50 that were in service when they were grounded. It said it will finish the modifications by June.
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