Boeing CEO: Flights on Dreamliners Returning Soon

10:37 AM, Mar 28, 2013   |    comments
A LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner with a redesigned lithium ion battery lands during a test flight March 25, 2012 at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. The 787 has been grounded since January after problems with the lithium ion battery. (by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Bart Jansen, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON -- Boeing CEO James McNerney said Thursday that testing of the 787 Dreamliner's redesigned lithium-ion batteries will be completed within "the next several days" and that the plane will carry passengers "sooner rather than later."

McNerney told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce aviation summit here that the battery problems that grounded the fleet of Dreamliners in mid-January have been "frustrating."

But, he said, the problems didn't diminish the value of Boeing's flagship jetliner, which is 20% more energy efficient than other commercial jets, has a long range and offers comfortable seating to passengers.

"We have a high degree of confidence in the technical solution we are testing right now," McNerney said. "I think it will be sooner rather than later."

The Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators worldwide grounded the fleet Jan. 16, the same day a smoldering battery forced an emergency landing in Japan. The battery in another plane parked in Boston caught fire Jan. 7.

"It's a frustrating experience," McNerney said. "We've got this fabulous airplane. There is nothing about a battery that needed to be fixed that impacted the other things that make this a special plane."

The company redesigned the plane's lithium-ion batteries, with better insulation between the cells to prevent a fire, a fireproof steel shell surrounding the battery in case it overheats, and a titanium tube to carry away any electrolytes and smoke from a battery overheating.

The FAA approved the certification plans March 12.

On Monday, Boeing conducted a two-hour test flight of the battery system with a plane built for LOT Polish Airlines. After analyzing the results, Boeing must fly at least one more test flight for the FAA to certify the plane as safe for passengers.

READ MORE: Boeing tests 787 Dreamliner in flight

McNerney praised the FAA and its administrator, Michael Huerta, as "champs" for working with the company to ensure that this plane is safe. Company officials have said they hope to fly passengers within weeks, although that depends on FAA approval.

"They have America's best interests in mind," McNerney said of regulators. "They have the safety of the flying public in mind, as I hope we do, which at this point means, let's get this thing back in service."

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