Airlines are making their calendars for the return of Boeing 787 flights, following the US Federal Aviation Administration's overnight announcement that it has approved a set of design changes to the plane's lithium-ion batteries.
The decision comes over three months since the 787 was subject to an unprecedented ‘global grounding’ following a series of critical overheating problems with the lithium-ion battery system.
“The FAA will require airlines that operate the 787 to install containment and venting systems for the main and auxiliary system batteries, and to replace the batteries and their chargers with modified components" the agency said in a statement.
"Next week, the FAA will issue instructions to operators for making changes to the aircraft and will publish in the Federal Register the final directive that will allow the 787 to return to service with the battery system modifications. The directive will take effect upon publication."
Qatar Airways has pencilled in May 15 for the restart of Dreamliner flights from Doha to Heathrow, with Munich, Frankfurt and Zurich following from late May to early June, although a Qatar spokeswoman told Australian Business Traveller that "dates for the introduction of the Boeing 787 on routes across our network are yet to be confirmed."
Qatar is now working on resuming its planned daily Boeing 787 service from Perth to Doha, which was due to start on February 1 and would have been Australia's first scheduled Dreamliner service.
United Airlines is reportedly ready bring the 787 back to the skies on May 31 on its domestic Houston-Denver route. International 787 services are slated to recommence on June 10, with the Dreamliner’s debut on the Houston-Heathrow route as well as the postponed launch of United’s Denver-to-Tokyo service.
Japan’s ANA, which was the worldwide launch customer for the Boeing 787, has the Dreamliner back on the roster for June, although the airline is prepared to push that back yet another month depending on Boeing’s progress in fixing the crucial battery flaws.
“We have not reached a decision to cancel 787 flights at this time, taking into consideration the progress of Boeing’s (battery) improvement plan” ANA said in a statement.
JAL remains uncertain of when to push its own 787s out of the hangers, but is unlikely to be far behind arch-rival ANA.
Qantas still hopes to see its first Boeing 787 in August, although that Dreamliner and 13 more to follow are destined for Jetstar rather than Qantas’ own fleet.
British Airways and China Southern are also due to begin flying the 787 this year, with Air New Zealand following in 2014.
Boeing has now completed test flights of a modified 787 sporting an redesigned battery system and is awaiting approval from US and Japanese regulators air transport agencies so that the world’s 50-odd grounded 787s can return to the skies and delivery of new Dreamliners to airlines can recommence.
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