Is the End in Sight for Dreamliner Crisis?

Finally, some good news for the Dreamliner – Boeing’s widely heralded new 787, often called the plane of the future – which has been grounded now for the past eight weeks.

FAA OK’s Boeing’s Fix Attempt

Late yesterday, the FAA approved Boeing’s plan for the plane’s redesigned lithium-ion battery system which is believed to be responsible for a series of troubling and scary incidents at the start of this year, prompting the FAA to ground the planes on Jan. 16.

Flights May Still be Months Away

Travelers are advised not to run out and try to book tickets for flights on the Dreamliner – not yet anyway. The FAA’s approval is just the first step in getting the planes back in the air. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which has been working around the clock to fix the problem, has other hoops to jump through including conducting “extensive testing and analysis to demonstrate compliance with the applicable safety regulations and special conditions” as the FAA put it.

An aviation expert quoted by CNN suggested, don’t look for the 50 Dreamliners used by airlines around the world (including United) to return to the skies for at least a month or two, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood states, “We won’t allow the plane to return to service unless we’re satisfied that the new design ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers.”

But it appears an ugly chapter is finally coming to an end for the Dreamliner – the light weight, fuel efficient aircraft which began commercial flights back in October 2011 after years of delays.

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Timeline: Boeing 787 Dreamliner Grounding

A brief timeline of the grounding and highlights of what we know so far. We begin with the latest information.

  • Day 56 [March 12]

The Federal Aviation Administration announces its approval of “Boeing’s certification plan for the redesigned 787 battery system, after thoroughly reviewing Boeing’s proposed modifications and the company’s plan to demonstrate that the system will meet FAA requirements. The certification plan is the first step in the process to evaluate the 787’s return to flight.”

  • Day 48 [March 4]

According to, a spokesperson for the Japanese maker of the battery cells that have proven problematic say they are working “24 hours a day” to solve the problem, but no estimates on when that will happen were provided.

  • Day 45 [March 1]

The New York Times reports that if the FAA approves a Boeing plan for a “fix” of the batteries, a lot of testing will ensue to be sure the planes are safe which could mean they won’t be ferrying passengers for another three to six months – sometime between June and September.

Meanwhile, the president of All Nippon Airways – the biggest single customer for the Dreamliner – says he believes Boeing is making progress in solving the problem

  • Day 44 [Feb. 28]

Boeing executive goes to Tokyo to issue public apology to two Japanese airlines that had troubles with the Dreamliner, calling the incidents “deeply regretful.”

  • Day 35 [Feb. 19]

As Dreamliners continue to roll off the assembly line, Boeing is reportedly running out of space to park the planes (though the aircraft manufacturer denies this).

  • Day 28 [Feb. 12]

The AP reports that the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (which sets standards for aviation safety worldwide) is moving to prevent lithium ion aircraft batteries – like the one that caught fire on the Dreamliner – from being shipped as cargo on passenger planes.

  • Day 27 [Feb. 11]

Another test flight for Dreamliner. No further tests are scheduled at this time.

Also, media reportssay Boeing warned in securities filings that the 787 batter problems could have an effect on its financial position since it “is unable to reasonably estimate a loss because the ultimate cost will depend on the probe’s findings.”

  • Day 25 [Feb. 9]

Boeing conducts the first of its FAA-approved test flights but little information is released beyond the fact that a Dreamliner 787 plane was in the air for about two and a half hours and the pilots described the flight as “uneventful.”

  • Day 24 [Feb. 8]

According to CNN “Boeing has started to warn airlines that deliveries of 787 Dreamliners could be delayed, including at least one delivery scheduled for as late as June.”

  • Day 21 [Feb. 5]

News reports hint at a possible breakthrough citing Boeing’s request to the FAA to conduct test flights of the 787. An FAA spokesman is quoted as saying only that “Boeing has submitted an application to conduct test flights, and it is currently under evaluation by the FAA.” No word on when the request could be approved or denied.

Meanwhile, the continued grounding of the 787 has reportedly forced Japan Airlines (JAL) to delay service to its new Tokyo to Helsinki route, which was to have launched Feb. 21 with Dreamliner aircraft.

  • Day 20 [Feb. 4]

Japan Airlines suspendspreviously noted launch of a new Tokyo-Helsinki route.

The Wall Street Journal reported Air India flew some empty Dreamliners to a more convenient (and cheaper) airport base. The carrier is not bound by FAA directives, but United Airlines is and the paper reports that the carrier has “a Dreamliner stuck in Tokyo, Qatar Airways has one in London while Polish carrier LOT has one in Chicago.”

  • Day 18 [Feb. 2]

Boeing publishes an optimistic press release on its website titled, Boeing Mobilizes Resources: When the going gets tough, program teams get going. It states, “Boeing employees are no strangers to solving tough technical problems and achieving scientific breakthroughs,” but for the time being, the Dreamliner problem remains unsolved.

United’s website offers no new updates on its Dreamliners.

  • Day 14 [Jan. 29]

The New York Times reports that All Nippon Airways experienced “multiple problems” with the aircraft’s lithium-ion batteries in the months before the grounding. The airline also told the Times that problems with the batteries – believed to be a focus of Dreamliner’s current difficulties – led the carrier to replace 10 of them before their expiration date and that this information was relayed to Boeing.

  • Day 9 [Jan. 24]

Boeing issues a statement saying it “welcomes the progress being made in the 787 investigation” but offers no information on what that progress entails. The statement adds that the safety of all onboard any of its airport is their “highest priority.”

  • Day 7 [Jan. 22]

Reuters reports that Boeing customers are told the problems are “going to be fixed soon.”

  • Day 1 [Jan. 16]

FAA orders Dreamliners grounded in the wake of problems including a battery fire, cracked windshield, fuel leaks and an emergency landing in Japan. No one is hurt in any of the incidents.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney issued a statement today saying, “Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities.” It also said Boeing has confidence in the plane’s “overall integrity.”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who recently announced his departure tells a reporter he’s had no pressure from Boeing to speed up the investigation, adding “All the smartest people in the world are trying to figure out what the fix is here and what went wrong and eventually they will.”

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Published: March 13, 2013