UPDATE at 7 p.m. Saturday: The 787 test flight planned for today was postponed. The reason is not known at this time.
Boeing declines as a matter of policy to discuss the timing of flight tests before they happen.
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Boeing will fly the 787 Dreamliner Saturday to test engineering refinements of its electrical power panels, according to a source with knowledge of the details.
Boeing has been working on a solution to nagging power panel faults that are unrelated to the battery problems that have grounded the 787 since mid-January.
Power distribution panels on the Dreamliner malfunctioned repeatedly on passenger flights last year.
Earlier this month, Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) revealed that faults in power-panel circuit boards on 787 passenger flights in March, April and June of last year resulted in error messages in the cockpit.
Each time, the planes continued to their destinations and the panels were inspected after landing. In the case of the fault on the April 7 flight, a circuit board was found to have shorted.
Then on Dec. 4, another power-panel short circuit occurred on a United flight out of Houston, forcing the pilot to divert to New Orleans.
A few days later, a similar fault occurred on the delivery flight of a Qatar Airways 787 from Everett to Doha.
And later in December, a second United jet was grounded after another power-panel malfunction.
Mike Sinnett, the 787’s chief project engineer, in a January interview, said that in four power-panel incidents electrical arcing inside a circuit board — “a low energy arc that lasted milliseconds, very small” — had damaged the board and shut down some of the plane’s electrical power.
He said the small spark inside the circuit boards produced no safety hazard, only a loss of function that was handled by the plane’s multiple, redundant power systems.
The jet being flown to test the power panel engineering solution is Dreamliner No. 86, a Boeing-owned production airplane built for LOT Polish Airlines and the same plane being used for the battery test flight.
The battery fix tests are ongoing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification flight test is expected very soon.
In a public appearance in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said the entire set of tests for the battery fix would be completed “in several days,” after which Boeing will compile the data and send it to the FAA for approval to resume flying.
That permission could come as soon as early April.
It may take a further couple of months before all the planes are retrofitted with the new batteries and the airlines can get back on their planned route schedules.
McNerney also said that Boeing was taking the opportunity of the battery fix downtime “to tighten up some things and make sure we’re in good shape as we get this plane back into service.”
Dealing with the power panel issues is likely one of the things he had in mind.
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org