Air India to fly Dreamliners again as US gives go-ahead

Last Updated: Sun, Apr 21, 2013 06:02 hrs

The Dreamliner will take to the skies again. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved the modification of batteries of the Boeing 787 plane. After a three-month wait, Air India will put the planes into operations from mid-May, on completion of the modification process. Separately, the national carrier is demanding $90-100 million in compensation from Boeing for the loss due to grounding, airline sources said.

Boeing did not respond to an email on the issue of compensation.

Air India has six Boeing 787s, which it flew on domestic routes and to Paris, Frankfurt and Dubai. It will have to wait for Director General of Civil Aviation Arun Mishra's nod to use the planes for global flights. Mishra is of the view Air India use the plane on domestic routes when it starts 787 flights. "We feel initially the plane be flown on two-three-hour domestic routes instead of seven-eight hour global ones,'' he said. It will be easier to respond to an emergency situation if the aircraft is flown in India, he added.

"Boeing is expected to deliver the seventh 787 to us in May. How will we bring the aircraft to India if DGCA does not allow seven-eight-hour flights?,'' an airline source asked.

A series of fires in the 787s batteries led to its grounding. The FAA issued an emergency directive grounding 50 787s which are currently in operation around the world. Boeing has now secured the approval to carry out modification in batteries and a formal FAA order allowing the 787 operations will be issued over next couple of days. DGCA will then issue an order clearing Air India to use the planes.

A team of engineers from Boeing is arriving in India over the next few day and will help Air India engineers to replace the existing batteries. DGCA officials will supervise the process. The actual replacement of batteries will start by end-April and it will take 5-6 days to change the batteries in each aircraft. Thus first of its Boeing 787 can be into operations around May 10, an airline source said.

The Boeing 787 have two batteries for its main electrical power and auxiliary power unit. The new batteries have an insulator and casing to prevent and contain fire due to over heating. This include a panel which acts as an insulator and to prevent short circuit in battery cells. The other additional feature is steel casing which can contain excess pressure caused due to overheating. Additionally a vent has been provided on the fuselage for release of excess pressure.

"FAA approval clears the way for us and the airlines to begin the process of returning the 787 to flight with continued confidence in the safety and reliability of this game-changing new airplane," said Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney in a press statement.

"The promise of the 787 and the benefits it provides to airlines and their passengers remain fully intact as we take this important step forward with our customers and program partners,'' he said.

Approval of the improved 787 battery system was granted by the FAA after the agency conducted an extensive review of certification tests. The tests were designed to validate that individual components of the battery, as well as its integration with the charging system and a new enclosure, all performed as expected during normal operation and under failure conditions. Testing was conducted under the supervision of the FAA over a month-long period beginning in early March.

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