The FAA on Tuesday approved a plan to test changes to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s lithium-ion batteries in a bid to certify a new design and get the grounded airliners back in the air.
The Boeing plan includes changes to the internal battery components to minimize the possibility of short-circuiting, which can lead to overheating and fires. Among the changes are better insulation of the battery’s cells and the addition of a new containment and venting system, the FAA said in a statement.
If testing proceeds smoothly, the FAA could give final approval by mid- to late April for the 787 to resume passenger flights. Boeing would still need to retrofit the 50 Dreamliners delivered to eight airlines in seven countries. That could mean the 787 won’t return to the skies until late April or early May.
So far the FAA has approved two 787 test flights, one with a prototype of the new battery and the other with only a new containment box for the battery.
The 787 carries two identical lithium-ion batteries, one of which is located toward the front of the aircraft and powers cockpit systems and the other toward the rear, which is used to start the APU.
Boeing's proposal involves three layers of protection to prevent overheating of the lithium-ion batteries in the 787: improved separation between the battery cells, installation of ceramic-plated spacers between each of the cells and the addition of a containment and venting system so smoke cannot enter the cabin.