Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has the approval to redesign components to minimize the risk of short-circuits. The company sees this as a milestone to getting the fleet up and running again.
The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday approved the plans Boeing had presented late February which detail a redesign of the internal battery components of the aircraft by improving insulation of the cells, the addition of a new containment and venting systems.
"We've introduced a new enclosure system that will keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or being noticed by passengers," Ray Conner, head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement.
The 787 has two identical lithium-ion batteries, one of which is located toward the front of the plane and powers cockpit electrical systems, the other toward the rear and used to start an auxiliary power unit while the plane is on the ground, among other functions.
The 50 Dreamliners in service were grounded worldwide on January 16 after unexplained overheating issues. A battery on one 787 melted mid-flight forcing an emergency landing in Japan, while a battery caught fire on another Dreamliner after it had landed in Boston.
Now extensive tests are planned. Two flight tests of 787s with prototypes of the new battery design have been approved according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which stressed that it required extensive testing before it would allow the planes to fly passengers again.
"This comprehensive series of tests will show us whether the proposed battery improvements will work as designed," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "We won't allow the plane to return to service unless we're satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers."
Boeing's 787 entered commercial service in October, 2011. The company is currently working on hundreds of outstanding orders for its new model.
Although its factories continue to make the 787, Boeing is losing an estimated $50 million (383 million euros) a week while the planes are grounded.
Boeing's European competitor Airbus is hoping to cash in on the Dreamliner problems and see orders go up for its A380 as some airlines are looking for short-term replacements for the grounded Boeing 787 as the busy summer travel season gets closer.
rg/lw (AFP, AP, Reuters)