Boeing puts grounded Dreamliner through its paces

The company said the tests went "according to plan" and Boeing is now planning a second test to gather data for the Federal Aviation Administration, which has to give its approval before the 787 is allowed to fly commercially again.

Boeing had delivered just 50 of the jets when lithium-ion batteries on two of the planes caught fire. The two incidents, one in the United States, another in Japan, triggered a global grounding for the Dreamliner.

Investigators in Japan and the US are now looking into what went wrong and have so far concentrated on the planes' battery systems. It is the first time that lightweight lithium-ion batteries have been used so extensively in a large passenger jet.

"During the functional check flight, crews cycled the landing gear and operated all the backup systems, in addition to performing electrical system checks," Boeing spokesperson Marc Birtel said in a statement.

Boeing is believed to be testing a new casing for the battery and a venting system that would dispel potentially flammable gases.

On January 7, one of the 787's batteries burst into flames while the plane was parked at Boston's Logan airport. The National Transport Safety Board has concluded in an interim report that short circuits across its eight cells may have triggered the fire. The board has, however, not yet identified a root cause for the fire. On January 16 in Japan, the battery on a second 787 triggered a smoke alarm while in flight, leading to an emergency landing.

The board will hold a meeting on lithium-ion batteries in April, at which the controversial technology will be discussed by airline and freight executives as well as safety experts and scientists. Lithiumion batteries have caused fires in smaller planes, cars, computers and mobile devices in the past. Freighting the product by plane is also carefully regulated.

Boeing is losing an estimated $50-million a week while the 787 is grounded. Rival Airbus has dropped lithium-ion battery technology from its A350 passenger jet. — © Guardian News & Media 2013

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