Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta said Wednesday that Boeing won’t get its 787 Dreamliners back in passenger service without extensive testing and recertification of its proposed fix for the jet’s lithium ion battery problem.
In testimony before a Congressional subcommittee, Huerta said he expects a report back from his technical staff next week that will offer an assessment of the fix that Boeing formally proposed last Friday.
But he said that FAA approval for Boeing to develop its fix will only be the beginning of the process.
“Once we approve the plan, then we have to go through the process of actually implementing the plan, which will involve a great deal of testing, a great deal of further analysis and re-engineering before these planes are back in the air,” Huerta said.
Huerta did not cite any potential time frame, but the requirement for extensive testing, analysis and re-engineering suggests at least weeks of work after Boeing gets the green light to proceed — which means it’s unlikely the 787s could be flying passengers again any sooner than late April or May.
Speaking to the U.S. House aviation subcommittee, Huerta spoke mostly on the impact of budget sequestration, but added remarks on the 787 in response to questions from ranking Democrat Rep. Rick Larsen, of Everett.
Huerta said that though GS Yuasa of Japan manufactured the battery to a design by French subcontractor Thales, now “Boeing is stepping in and in this review assuming responsibility for the design and for the testing” of a revamped battery system.
“That is something we need to review and ultimately certify,” Huerta said.
He said Boeing has proposed a “comprehensive plan” to cover “a handful of potential areas of probable cause,” all of which are within the battery.
He said Boeing’s proposed fixes provide mitigation of the impact of any overheating of the battery at three levels: re-engineering of the design to reduce the possibility of a cell overheating; other measures to stop any overheating in a single cell from spreading to adjacent cells; and finally design changes to contain any battery-wide incident so that the airplane is not endangered.
“Any re-engineering and how it gets built is yet to be worked out,” Huerta said.
Huerta’s description of Boeing’s proposed fix is in line with the details provided by multiple sources, which include: monitoring of voltage and temperature within individual cells; more thermal separation between cells; a stronger battery containment box; and a better venting system to ensure flammable vapors go directly out of the airplane.
Earlier this month, the FAA granted Boeing permission to fly two flight tests to gather data needed for its proposed fix.
Huerta said Boeing hasn’t yet requested any further test flights.
• Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgatesseattletimes.com.