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Originally published March 4, 2013 at 12:02 PM | Page modified March 5, 2013 at 1:35 PM

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Boeing's Conner says 787 fix can be fast

Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner said Monday the company’s fix for the 787 lithium-ion battery problem can be swiftly implemented and the Dreamliners can be flying again soon if the FAA gives Boeing approval to go ahead.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner said Monday the company’s fix for the 787 lithium-ion battery problem can be swiftly implemented and the Dreamliners can be flying again soon if the FAA gives Boeing approval to go ahead.

“So much depends on where the FAA goes,” Conner said. “Hopefully they will agree with the certification plan, and then we’ll go into testing.

“Once we get that, this will move really fast in terms of being able to get the airplanes back into the air.”

Just how fast that can happen will depend not only on the FAA’s approval to go forward, but also on how much testing the agency will demand to certify the fix.

Conner gave no indication how long he believes the certification testing will take. But he expressed full confidence that Boeing’s fix will meet all potential FAA requirements.

“We’ve come up with a very comprehensive solution to the battery issue,” Conner said at the JP Morgan aviation conference in New York. “We would not go forward unless we felt like we had it nailed.”

Boeing is preparing kits with the parts needed to retrofit the 50 already delivered airplanes that have been grounded around the world for more than six weeks.

“We are ready to go,” Conner said. “It’s a matter of getting the kits in place and off and running.”

After those 50 jets are retrofitted, he said, Boeing will quickly apply the fix to the undelivered airplanes now grounded at Paine Field, and “we’ll be off and into the delivery cycle.”

Conner conceded that this optimistic outlook hangs upon the FAA’s call as to whether the fix is comprehensive enough.

For now Boeing is maintaining its production schedule, he said, and by midyear it will increase the 787 assembly rate from
5 per month now to 7 per month.

“That could change if things go sideways with FAA,” Conner said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Boeing had been expected to launch the next version of the Dreamliner, the 787-10, in June at the Paris Air Show. It was offering the stretched 787 to customers when the battery problems emerged in January.

Conner said Monday the grounding of the 787s has stalled some of those customer negotiations.

“Clearly having the fleet down right now has slowed things down quite a bit,” he said.

However, assuming the battery problem is resolved, he said, the 787-10 launch will likely go ahead more or less as planned.

Answering a slew of questions on the lithium-ion battery problem, Conner tried to dispel some passenger worries by stressing that these batteries “are not used in flight. They are a backup.”

And he said Boeing’s engineers are “very comfortable” with the lithium-ion battery technology, even though rival jet-maker Airbus — chiefly to ensure its schedule is not affected by any potential new battery-related regulations — has chosen to switch back to traditional nickel-cadmium batteries for its forthcoming A350 airplane.

“Through all the analysis we’ve done, we couldn’t see any reason to switch back,” Conner said. “We’ve got a solution in place that addresses all the potential factors” in causing the battery fires that grounded the plane.

He said a team of about 200 Boeing engineers has worked on the fix, clocking about 200,000 hours of analysis and testing, in consultation with “a very impressive outside team” of top battery experts.

The FAA is expected to give its initial response to Boeing’s proposed fix this week.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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