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Feds allow Boeing to conduct 787 ‘test flights’

As part of an ongoing investigation, federal authorities this week said Boeing could conduct test flights of the beleaguered 787 aircraft to gather additional data.

“As with all test flights, these will be subject to a number of restrictions, including extensive pre-flight testing and inspections and in-flight monitoring in order to ensure the highest levels of safety,” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said. “The flights will be conducted in defined airspace over unpopulated areas.”

The FAA last month ordered domestic airlines temporarily halt the use of Boeing 787 aircraft because of “a potential battery fire risk.” An emergency airworthiness directive (AD) issued by the agency was to remain in place until domestic operators “demonstrate … the batteries are safe,” the agency said at the time.

“The traveling public’s safety is our highest priority,” the FAA said in a statement. “These test flights will be an important part of our efforts to ensure the safety of passengers and return these aircraft to service.”

On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it would focus its investigation on the “design and certification requirements of the battery system” after determining the origin of a Jan. 7 battery fire on board a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston Logan Airport.

“The 787 was certified following a rigorous Boeing test program and an extensive certification program conducted by the FAA,” Boeing said in a statement. “We provided testing and analysis in support of the requirements of the FAA special conditions associated with the use of lithium ion batteries. We are working collaboratively to address questions about our testing and compliance with certification standards, and we will not hesitate to make changes that lead to improved testing processes and products.”

The 787 has caused headache after headache for Boeing. A number of the aircraft have experienced problems, including a cracked cockpit window and a fuel leak in addition to the battery problems.

On the same day the AD was issued, a pair of Japanese airlines announced they grounded their Boeing 787 aircraft after a problem forced an All Nippon Airways 787 to make emergency landing.

An All Nippon Airways aircraft made an emergency landing at Takamatsu Airport in Japan. A battery problem and a burning smell in the cockpit were apparently responsible for the emergency landing, according to reports.

United Airlines is the only domestic carrier that operates the 787. The Chicago-based airline operates six of the aircraft.

“From day one, we have said that the comprehensive review of the Boeing 787 and the root cause analysis of the two battery incidents would be a data-driven process,” the FAA said this week. “Based on what information our experts find, the FAA will take any action necessary to further ensure safety.”

The agency added: “We must finish this work before reaching conclusions about what changes or improvements the FAA should make going forward. The leading experts in this field are working to understand what happened and how we can safely get these aircraft back into service.”

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