TOKYO, Apr 28 – A Dreamliner test flight with top Boeing and All Nippon Airways chiefs aboard landed at a Tokyo airport on Sunday, three months after the global fleet of 787s was grounded, as airlines seek to reassure passengers the planes are safe.
The test flight by ANA, one of the largest customers of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners, came a day after Ethiopian Airlines became the first carrier to resume flying the 787s that have been grounded worldwide since January due to battery problems.
ANA chairman Shinichiro Ito and Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner descended the stairs of the Dreamliner, which landed at Haneda airport at around 11:00 am (0200 GMT) after a two-hour test flight.
“After three months it’s a terrific feeling to have ANA 787 back in the air, and I am very pleased to say that it was a perfect flight on a perfect day,” Conner said at a news conference afterwards.
“As evident by the fact that we are here today, we are very confident in the solution that we developed … and I can tell you that we put our family on this airplane on any day of a week, and any time.”
ANA has the world’s largest fleet of the next-generation planes and the presence of both executives underscores their desire to put the damaging crisis behind them.
But it could still be at least a month before the carrier can complete all the battery fixes and get its planes in the air.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators grounded the worldwide Dreamliner fleet in mid-January after failures of the lithium-ion batteries on the jetliner caused a fire on board one parked plane in Boston and forced the emergency landing of an ANA-operated aircraft in Japan.
Following months of investigations, the FAA on Thursday issued formal approval of Boeing’s battery fix, with Ethiopian Airlines on Saturday becoming the first carrier to resume using the aircraft in a flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi.
Speaking in Tokyo on Saturday, Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s chief project manager for the Dreamliner programme, said the Japanese test flight showed the faith that the US aircraft manufacturer placed in the battery fix.
“What it represents is… the depth of confidence that Ray Conner has in the series of design solutions we have brought forward,” Sinnett told reporters.
Although the exact cause of the battery failures has yet to be pinpointed — as noted by the FAA on Thursday — Sinnett insisted that the refitted planes were safe to fly.
“Even if we missed the root cause, we have identified 80 potential causal factors and we have addressed all of them in the design,” he said.
The battery solution eliminated the potential for fire and heat to get into the airplane, he said.
“I am very happy to see the airplane is back in the air now and I am very happy also we are the first one,” Ethiopian Airlines CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam told journalists before take off.
Ethiopian Airlines has four Dreamliners, which Tewolde said would all resume service in the coming weeks after being retrofitted with new batteries.
“This is the first airplane which has completed the work,” he told reporters, adding that work has already started on the company’s other three 787s.
Each of the aircraft will receive an encased new battery, allowing the plane to continue flying in the event of a battery malfunction.
Even if the battery were to malfunction, “it’s contained, it’s isolated, the airplane will be able to continue flying,” Boeing’s marketing vice-president for commercial airplanes, Randy Tinseth, told AFP at the airport.
Despite the previous safety scares with the aircraft, he said customers have no reason to feel nervous about flying the Dreamliner.
“I can’t wait to get back on the aircraft, and I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my family on it,” he said.