Dreamliner: Boeing says flights to restart in 'weeks'

Boeing 787 Dreamliners
Image caption Boeing's Dreamliner fleet has been grounded while safety checks are carried out on the batteries

Boeing has said that it expects commercial flights of its Dreamliner 787 plane to restart within "weeks".

The comments come just days after the US airline regulator approved its plan to redesign the lithium-ion batteries used on the plane.

All 50 Dreamliners in operation were grounded earlier this year after batteries on some planes emitted smoke.

Boeing said it had found a fix for the problem and had been carrying out tests on the proposed solution.

Ray Connor, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the timing of the start of commercial flight would depend on how fast the firm can "move through the certification process".

"We don't anticipate that being months, we are thinking more along the line of weeks," he said.

'More confident'

The Dreamliner 787 is the first plane in the world to use the lithium-ion batteries, which are lighter, hold more power and recharge more quickly.

It is also said to be one of the most advanced and fuel-efficient planes in the industry.

However, concerns have been raised over its safety after a string of incidents earlier this year.

In January, a fire started in a lithium-ion battery pack of a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston. Meanwhile, an All Nippon Airways flight was forced to make an emergency landing because of a battery malfunction.

The incidents led to the entire fleet of Dreamliners being grounded by the authorities.

However, Boeing has since submitted a plan to redesign the batteries to ensure their safety.

Its plan includes improving the battery design to stop faults from occurring, enhancing the production, operating and testing processes, and introducing a new battery enclosure system to prevent any overheating from affecting the plane.

"We may never get to the single root cause, but the process that we've applied to understanding what improvements can be made is the most robust process we have ever followed in improving a part in the history," said Mike Sinnett, the chief project engineer of the Dreamliner.

"So I feel more confident in the performance of the product now, because we've addressed many possible things than I would if we had only just addressed one thing."

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved Boeing's plan. But the regulator has said that it requires "extensive testing and analysis".

At the same time, the FAA has so far given no indication of when the planes might be allowed to carry passengers again.

'Safest airplanes'

The Dreamliner is seen by most analysts as key to Boeing's future success.

The firm has so far delivered 50 Dreamliners. A further 473 have been ordered by at least 44 different airlines around the world.

And as airlines look to cut fuel costs, demand for fuel-efficient planes is expected to grow further in the long-run.

But the Dreamliner project has been plagued with problems. The plane was 30 months behind schedule at the time of its maiden flight.

The grounding of the entire fleet and subsequent safety concerns have added to issues that the firm has faced.

However, on Friday, Boeing's executives assured air travellers about the plane's safety.

"I get often asked if I think the airplane is still safe. My answer is simple: absolutely," said Mr Sinnett.

He added that the Dreamliner "is among the safest airplanes our company has ever produced".

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