Feds Weigh Boeing’s Bid To Return 787 to Service

 - February 25, 2013, 2:03 PM
United Airlines flight schedules show no 787 service until May 12. (Photo: Boeing)

The effort toward returning the Boeing 787 to service enters a new phase this week as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration digests a formal proposal issued last Friday during what the manufacturer characterized as a productive meeting between BCA president and CEO Ray Conner and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. Neither Boeing nor the FAA would comment on the substance of the proposal, widely believed to center on a modification of the airplane’s lithium-ion batteries meant to prevent fire from spreading from one cell to another.

“We are encouraged by the progress being made toward resolving the issue and returning the 787 to flight for our customers and their passengers around the world,” said Boeing in a statement. “Boeing has drawn upon resources from across the company and externally, pulling together teams of hundreds of experts and working this issue around the clock for the past several weeks. The company has been working closely with the FAA and other authorities throughout.”

For its part, the FAA reiterated it would take all the time it needed to ensure the safety of the proposed fix.

“The FAA is reviewing a Boeing proposal and will analyze it closely,” it said. The safety of the flying public is our top priority and we won’t allow the 787 to return to commercial service until we’re confident that any proposed solution has addressed the battery failure risks.”

Further evidence of the potential duration of the 787’s grounding emerged when United Airlines said last week it had removed 787 service from its schedule until May 12, the new tentative start date for a route between Denver and Tokyo Narita Airport originally planned for launch on March 31. No other 787s would fly for United until June 5 under its most recent schedules. Roughly a week earlier the CEO of Poland’s LOT, Sebastian Mikosz, told reporters that airline had scrapped plans to fly 787s this summer. According to the PAP Polish press agency, the Polish government reported ongoing losses of $50,000 a day at LOT due solely to the grounding of its first two 787s. Meanwhile, Qantas last week reported in its half-yearly earnings report for the six months ending last December that it had already received A$125 million ($128 million) in compensation from the manufacturer for delivery delays unrelated to the grounding. Latest estimates place total compensation due the Australian flag carrier at A$300 million ($307 million). On February 25, Japan’s All Nippon Airways announced that it will cancel some 1,700 flights due to be operated by its 787s during April and May.

Early this month Boeing alerted Norwegian Airlines of possible delays to deliveries scheduled for late April and June. Norwegian, which had signed a lease deal for its first two airplanes with Los Angeles-based ILFC, issued a statement outlining plans to enter a separate three-month lease deal for another long-range aircraft in the event it doesn’t receive its first 787 in time for planned services from Oslo to New York and Bangkok on May 30 and June 1, respectively.