Japanese airlines were hit hardest by the Dreamliner debacle and they're eager to get their new fleets in the sky as soon as possible, hence the pressure on Boeing to put them first in line for the fixes.
Japan will give the green light later on Friday for Boeing Co’s 787 Dreamliner to resume flights, the transport minister said, allowing top customers Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways to get the cutting-edge jet back in the air.
Japan Airlines Co Ltd and local rival All Nippon Airways account for almost half of the 50 Dreamliners worldwide that have been grounded since mid-January following two separate lithium-ion battery incidents in Boston and western Japan.
Akihiro Ota, Japan’s transport minister, told reporters in Tokyo that aviation authorities would officially approve the resumption of Dreamliner flights for Japanese airlines later on Friday, by issuing a revised “technical circular directive”.
The move will come after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave formal approval on Thursday for a new lithium-ion battery system for the Dreamliner. The FAA’s airworthiness directive will be effective later on Friday after it is published in the Federal Register.
In addition to the battery fix approved by the FAA, Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau will require airlines to meet the country’s own safety standards when flying the 787, which include monitoring the battery current while the jet is in the air and checking used batteries.
“It is important that we continuously explain in order to resolve worries and to convey that the jet is safe,” Ota said.
Japan’s aviation regulator said it followed the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s public hearings held earlier this week in Washington before coming to a decision on flight restarts.
“We did not find anything new that shed doubt on the adequacy of (Boeing’s) preventative measures,” said Shigeru Takano, an official at the Civil Aviation Bureau.
Teams of Boeing engineers began installing reinforced batteries on Dreamliners owned by All Nippon Airways on Monday. ANA, the world’s biggest operator of the carbon-composite aircraft with 17 Dreamliners, said it hopes to complete retrofitting its entire fleet by mid-May.
The company also said on Friday that it is planning more than 200 flights of its repaired aircraft before carrying passengers.
The flights will check the safety of the aircraft and allow ANA’s 180 Dreamliner pilots to get accustomed to flying it again after more than a three-month break.
“I believe that safety has been secured assured now, but only by flying the 787 smoothly will we will be able to demonstrate its safety and reassure our passengers,” Hiroyuki Ito, ANA senior executive vice president, told reporters.
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Photo credit: An ANA's Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner plane receives restoration work at Okayama airport in Okayama, Japan. Kyodo/Reuters