April 29, 2013
Credit: Joe Walker
With the Boeing 787 set to return to revenue service, airlines worldwide are developing plans to get the fleet back in the air as soon as possible. Ethiopian Airlines said it could be flying by April 27, but for most carriers, the process is frustrating. It seems clear that many will not be flying until June.
Boeing delivered 50 aircraft before the Jan. 16 grounding. All Nippon Airways (ANA) is by far the largest operator with 17, followed by Japan Airlines (JAL) with seven. United Airlines and Air India both have six; Qatar Airways received five. Ethiopian took delivery of four, LAN had three and LOT Polish Airlines two. Complicating the repair work is the fact that many of the aircraft are not grounded at their home bases. One of the LOT aircraft has been stranded at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport since it touched down there following its inaugural service. One of the ANA aircraft has been parked in Frankfurt, while some are at Tokyo-Haneda and other airports throughout Japan. None of the six United aircraft were in Chicago. One of the seven JAL aircraft was still in Boston. Some those 787s will be repositioned before the battery modifications are undertaken.
Both All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines started battery modifications on their aircraft on April 22. The two rivals account for the majority of the 787s delivered so far, and they have been hardest hit by the aircraft's grounding due to problems with its lithium-ion batteries.
An ANA spokesman tells Aviation Week that five support teams from Boeing are each working on one of the carrier's aircraft, and the modifications will take about a week per plane. All 17 of ANA's 787s are scheduled to be finished by the end of May. The spokesman emphasizes that ANA still needs a revised Technical Circular Directive to be issued by the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) before it can begin test flights of its 787s.
Boeing has already conducted flight testing for the battery fix, and on April 19 the FAA granted approval for the modification design. A formal directive allowing 787s to return to flight with the modification is expected this week. The JCAB will likely follow with its own directive.
Although there were reports circulating that ANA plans to conduct 100-200 test flights on the 787s within Japan, an airline spokesman says “nothing is decided yet and we will continue to communicate closely with the Japanese agency and Boeing [as to] how many flights we fly before the 787 returns to service.”
ANA had already announced in February that it would extend the cancelation of 787 flights to May 31, to provide some certainty to its scheduling. The spokesman says this plan remains in effect, which signals that the 787s will return to scheduled service at the beginning of June.