The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flights of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner last month due to ongoing safety concerns — but the troubled aircraft may soon be authorized for a limited return to the skies. The Seattle Times reports that Boeing has asked the FAA for permission to start test flights of the Dreamliner in order to gain additional information about the battery system that has caused so much trouble for the aircraft. The company reportedly has a fix it wants to try as part of the trial as well — and if all goes well, the first test flights may come as early as this week.
The Wall Street Journal notes that investigators have thus far been unable to determine the root cause of the battery fires. Just last week the retired director of the National Transportation Safety Board, Tom Haueter, told Bloomberg that the investigation could last years due to the fact that so much evidence had been destroyed in the fires themselves; running test flights would ostensibly let Boeing collect fresh data that could help provide a more definitive diagnosis.
The first round of flights would amount to stress tests
According to the Times, Boeing is looking at ways to improve the ability of the lithium-ion batteries on the 787 to withstand overheating, as well as methods to improve the venting system used in the airplane. The first round of test flights, however, will reportedly focus on simple stress tests: how the batteries hold up to vibrations when the plane takes off and lands, as well as how it responds to changes in temperature during the course of a regular flight.
While the FAA provided no additional information as to when it would make a decision, it is said to be leaning towards approving the request, and could potentially announce its decision in the next few days; the Times is reporting that the first 787 test flight could even occur before the end of the week. While these test flights would no doubt be good news for Boeing, they would simply be the first step in a long path towards determining a cause and crafting a potential solution — with the prospect of commercial flights for the Dreamliner still far off in the future.