Air safety investigators from the United States and Japan have been investigating the battery incidents for three weeks. On Wednesday, the head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was “probably weeks away” from completing its probe. NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman will update on the investigation at a briefing later on Thursday.
In Tokyo, one official said Japanese regulators had not been notified of any breakthrough in the U.S. battery probe. “The investigation will continue as scheduled. Resuming flights in March ... seems far too optimistic to me,” said the official who didn’t want to be named as the investigation is ongoing.
One source familiar with the investigation told Reuters that Boeing engineers sprang into action “almost immediately” after the first battery incident to ensure the company could meet special Federal Aviation Administration-approved conditions to allow lithium-ion batteries on the aircraft. “They can’t afford to sit around with their planes on the ground,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Boeing was pursuing multiple solutions to mitigate and contain a fire if one started in the batteries, part of a determined effort to get the 787s back in the air while a more permanent solution - possibly even a different battery - was explored. Three or four different approaches would be pursued to ensure the batteries did not breach their containment systems, even if they caught fire, said the source.
Dinesh Keskar, Boeing’s vice-president for sales in Asia Pacific and India, reiterated that, based on current knowledge, the planemaker would stick with lithium-ion battery technology for the Dreamliner.
He also told Reuters on the sidelines of an airshow in Bangalore on Thursday that Boeing will address compensation claims from its 787 customers after the grounded jetliner is back in service. “The focus is to get the airplane back, then we will deal with that issue (of compensation) like we dealt with all these deliveries that are happening,” Keskar said. “We will deal with that in closed rooms and with customers.”
Indian national carrier Air India, which has six Dreamliners and has ordered 21 more, has said it could seek compensation from Boeing. ANA and local rival Japan Airlines Co Ltd have also said they will seek compensation from Boeing once the amount of damages is clearer. JAL this week predicted the 787’s grounding would cost it nearly $8 million in lost earnings through March.