Dreamliner is grounded, but production goes on
With a battery solution in place, Boeing is ready to begin tests. In the meantime, production of the composites-intensive plane continues unabated.
Now that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given Boeing approval to start testing the company's solution to lithium-ion battery overheating and fire risk on the 787 Dreamliner, it's time to start thinking about getting the fleet back in the air.
First, a recap. Following two fires involving the lithium-ion batteries on the 787, the entire fleet of 50 delivered planes was grounded as Boeing and the FAA attempted to find out the cause of the fires and a solution. No cause was found, but a three-pronged solution has been crafted: First, the batteries will now have a thicker and better divider separating each lithium-ion cell; second, each battery will be encased in a stainless steel container designed to reduce flame spread in case of a fire; third, there will be ventilation from the container to the outside so as to keep smoke in a potential fire from moving into passenger or crew spaces on the aircraft.
In the meantime, Boeing has continued to manufacture 787s and storing them near the Everett, Wash., USA facility at which they're assembled. Several suppliers of composites materials to Boeing for the 787 told CompositesWorld at JEC Europe 2013 in Paris last week that demand for their product has been unaffected by the 787 grounding. Furhter, barring a set back in testing of the battery solution, most said they expect the fleet to be cleared for flight again before the end of April.
One supplier at the show, when told that some reports suggested clearance from the FAA might not come until May, raised an eyebrow and said, "Well, we certainly hope it's flying before then." Other than the battery challenges, it appears that the 787 supply chain in general, and the composites supply chain in particular, is beginning to run more and more efficiently. In fact, much of the industry's attention at JEC is focused squarely on the Airbus A350 XWB, which is scheduled to make its maiden flight this summer.