Dreamliner reinforced, passes Japan’s ANA test

Dreamliner reinforced, passes Japan’s ANA test

TOKYO - Agence France-Presse
Dreamliner reinforced, passes Japan’s ANA test

An All Nippon Airways Boeing 787 takes off for its test flight at the Haneda International airport in Tokyo on April 28, 2013. AFP photo

A modified Dreamliner took to the skies over Tokyo yesterday with top Boeing and All Nipon Airways (ANA) executives aboard, as the plane maker and its leading client sought to reassure passengers the jetliners are safe.

It was the first flight by one of All Nippon Airways’ 787s since the worldwide fleet of the next-generation planes was grounded over safety concerns due to faulty batteries sparking fires on board two planes.

The test flight by ANA, which has the largest fleet of Dreamliners, came a day after Ethiopian Airlines became the first carrier to resume flying the 787s.

After a two-hour test flight from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, ANA chairman Shinichiro Ito and Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner descended the stairs of the Dreamliner.

“After three months it’s a terrific feeling to have an ANA 787 back in the air, and I am very pleased to say that it was a perfect flight on a perfect day,” Conner told reporters.

“As is evident by the fact that we are here today, we are very confident in the solution that we developed... and I can tell you that we put our family on this airplane on any day of a week, and any time.” ANA and Boeing are anxious to put the damaging crisis behind them but it could still be at least a month before the carrier can complete all the battery fixes and get its planes in the air.

Aircraft planned to fly in May

Ito said the company may fly the aircraft in May on an irregular basis and that it would aim to resume normal flights from June 1.

“We had not necessarily expected this (problem of batteries) as the launch customer, but I can say it was a meaningful challenge,” Ito said.

Neither Ito nor Conner commented on details of compensation, which ANA has said it will seek after months of cancellations and disruption to schedules.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators grounded the worldwide Dreamliner fleet in mid-January after failures of the lithium-ion batteries on the jetliner caused a fire on board one parked plane in Boston and forced the emergency landing of an ANA-operated aircraft in Japan.

Following months of investigations, the FAA on Thursday issued formal approval of Boeing’s battery fix, with Ethiopian Airlines on Saturday becoming the first carrier to resume using the aircraft.

Speaking in Tokyo on Saturday, Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s chief project manager for the Dreamliner program, said the Japanese test flight showed the faith that the US aircraft manufacturer placed in the battery fix.

“What it represents is... the depth of confidence that Ray Conner has in the series of design solutions we have brought forward,” Sinnett told reporters.

Although the exact cause of the battery failures has yet to be pinpointed -- as noted by the FAA on Thursday -- Sinnett insisted that the refitted planes were safe to fly.

“Even if we missed the root cause, we have identified 80 potential causal factors and we have addressed all of them in the design,” he said.

Japanese travellers’ feelings

The battery solution eliminated the potential for fire and heat to get into the airplane, he said.

Japanese travellers expressed mixed feelings towards the modified Dreamliners.

Yuji Kawaguchi, 56, said he would like to see the 787 operations resume soon.

“I often fly for business trips,” he said as he waited for a flight to southern Kagoshima at Haneda airport. “As far as the testing shows no problem, we might as well start thinking about improving convenience.” In contrast, Tomohiro Obayashi, 32, from northern Hokkaido expressed concerns that the root-cause has not been identified.