The aviation industry, for its part, has strong incentives to avoid cutting corners, since human life, company reputations and careers are at stake.
“We put our own children on those planes,” said Tom McCarty, president of SPEEA, the engineering union at Boeing.
Boeing, meanwhile, has swiftly made design changes, which include adding ceramic insulation between the cells of the battery and a stronger stainless steel box with a venting tube to contain a fire and expel fumes from the aircraft.
At the investor conference on Monday, Boeing’s Conner said the company will double 787 production this year and deliver the same number of jets it planned before the battery crisis struck.
Industry experts, however, say the inability to pinpoint the cause of the battery failures could make the FAA’s job of certifying a solution more difficult, since it requires a fix that can contain the worst problem that can occur without damaging the aircraft.
“People will attack this approach,” said Weber. “They’ll say, ‘How do you know that’s the worst case?’”
Weber speculated that the safety concerns may result in regulators restricting the 787’s ability to make long flights over water, a standard known as ETOPS. Such a change would be a severe blow to Boeing and airlines that use the Dreamliner for long-haul direct flights with about 250 passengers, a highly lucrative market that the 787 can serve at 20 percent lower fuel cost than other planes.
“If politically they feel they cannot move aggressively toward restoring three-hour ETOPS they may restrict it to one hour, so the aircraft can land if there is a fire,” said Weber. “That destroys the business case for the 787.”
Boeing shares were up $1.49, or nearly 2 percent, at $78.58 in late afternoon trading on Tuesday.