Boeing will move “really fast” to return the Boeing 787 to service once the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approves the company’s proposal to solve the airplane’s battery problem, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner told attendees at the J.P. Morgan Aviation, Transportation & Defense Conference in New York on March 4. Although he wouldn’t offer a specific time frame, nor could he reveal any details of the “three-layer” solution he presented FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Conner expressed confidence that the agency and the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) will find the proposed fix sufficiently thorough.
Conner said that Boeing has used some 200 engineers to conduct “probably” more than 200,000 hours of analysis and tests to arrive at a “very comprehensive” solution.
“We’ve covered the waterfront, so to speak, in terms of all the potentials that are out there,” he insisted. “We would not go forward unless we felt we had it nailed, and I think we do.”
Conner issued his proclamation only three days before the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board released an interim factual report on the January 7 battery fire discovered on a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston Logan Airport. Although the report confirms that all but one of the eight cells in the lithium-ion battery short-circuited, it draws no conclusions as to the reason.
The company did consider switching from lithium-ion batteries to a more conventional nickel-cadmium type, Conner acknowledged, but, he said, it couldn’t justify such a move based on the studies it had conducted.
“I think we’ve got a solution in place that addresses all the potential factors that could go into an initiating event, and there was no reason for us to make that switch,” he said. “It was much faster for us to get back into the air that way, but really, at the end of the day, we feel very comfortable with the technology as it stands.”
Timing, of course, will depend on how much time Boeing will need to conduct certification testing and install the upgrade kits in the delivered fleet. Finally, it will need to retrofit the production airplanes now completed and sitting in Seattle.
Conner described the 787s still rolling off the assembly line at a rate of five per month as “very clean,” and said he sees no reason to change plans for the next rate break to seven per month “pretty soon,” and, ultimately, to 10 per month by the end of the year. “Obviously that could change if something were to go sideways with the FAA, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said. Meanwhile, Boeing has not changed its earlier delivery guidance for analysts of at least sixty 787s this year.