Boeing has begun repairs on the 787 Dreamliner to fix a battery fault that grounded the fleet for three months as it enters talks with airlines to resume deliveries and meet a full-year production target.
ANA, the biggest 787 operator, started repairs Monday morning at four airports around Japan, said spokesman Ryosei Nomura. Japan Airlines has also started fixing the batteries, according to a person familiar with the plan, who declined to be identified as the information isn’t public.
The global fleet of 50 Dreamliners was grounded worldwide Jan. 16 after lithium-ion batteries on two separate planes overheated and melted, causing flights to be canceled and cutting revenue to the operators. Boeing has dispatched about 300 personnel on 10 teams to airlines to install the fix over five days while preparing the handover of new 787s.
“We are starting to have detailed conversations with all of our customers about delivery timing,” Larry Loftis, Boeing 787 vice president and general manager, told journalists in London. “We don’t have specific dates right now.”
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Deliveries will resume “within weeks,” Loftis said. Production of 787s, which had reached five aircraft per month when the fleet was grounded in January, is now reaching seven. Loftis said there are no reasons that 2013 production targets will not be met, including an output level of 10 787s per month.
The cost of the modification is “fairly small,” Loftis said, while declining to specify what the total cost of the grounding will be. Boeing, the world’s largest aircraft maker, reports first-quarter earnings on Wednesday.
ANA and JAL, which operate 22 787s between them, are waiting for approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau before they can restart flights. ANA expects to complete repairs on its 787s next month.
“Pilots will be able to fly the planes soon after studying the changes to the manual,” said Toshikazu Nagasawa, a director at the Air Line Pilots Association of Japan, which has about 4,500 members.
“The biggest problem will be getting passengers to fly on the planes.”
The airlines received service bulletins on repairs from Boeing after it last week won approval from the FAA for the 787’s redesigned battery system.
The FAA said it will issue a directive this week to let flights resume once the battery fixes are made.
Both airlines still need permission from Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism before they can fly the planes.
The ministry’s Civil Aviation Bureau is in its final stages of the Dreamliner probe, Shigeru Takano, the agency’s director in charge of air-transport safety, said last week in Tokyo.
Japan will wait until after a two-day U.S. National Transportation Safety Board hearing on the JAL 787 battery fire starting Tuesday before making a decision on the resumption of flights, Takano said.
Boeing engineers will arrive in India on Wednesday, after the work in Japan, to apply the fix for Air India’s six 787s. The airline expects to resume 787 services by May 15 at the latest, Rohit Nandan, the company’s chairman, said today in New Delhi.
United, the only U.S. carrier with Dreamliners, called the FAA’s move a “good step forward.”
The airline is selling seats for Dreamliner flights starting May 31 for domestic routes including Houston-Denver, and is targeting June 10 to begin new service between Denver and Tokyo.