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Dreamliner Will Stick with Lithium-ion Battery

Feb. 28, 2013
The aircraft giant, which has bet heavily on its lightweight plane at a time when airlines are eager to slash fuel costs, desperately wants to get it back in the air.

TOKYO -- A senior Boeing (IW 1000/53) executive said Thursday he and Japanese government officials had discussed a "permanent" solution to fix problems that have dogged the grounded Dreamliner.

Raymond Conner, executive vice president of Boeing and head of commercial airplane, said they would not abandon the lithium-ion batteries used in the planes which are at the center of a worldwide safety probe.

He also denied reports that the plane maker was at odds with its battery supplier over how to fix the troubles, saying "we are great partners".

The next-generation 787 was ordered out of the skies in January following a series of incidents.

"It is not an interim solution. This is a permanent solution," Conner told reporters after meeting Transport Minister Akihiro Ota to discuss problems that caused one battery to catch fire and another to emit smoke.

Asked if Boeing was considering ditching the Japanese-made lithium-ion batteries from the 787, Conner said: "I see nothing in this technology that would tell us it's the appropriate thing to do."

Conner did not give any details of the curative package for the Dreamliner, saying only that he was "confident" in it.

"The solution set that we have put in place provides three layers of protection and we feel that this solution takes into account any possible event that could occur, any causal factor that could cause an event.

"And we are very confident that this fix will be permanent and will allow us to continue with the technology," he said.

Japan's transport ministry said it was the first mission to the country by Boeing's headquarters executives since the Dreamliner fleet was grounded.

The visit came as the Wall Street Journal reported Boeing was in disagreement with GS Yuasa, the Japanese company that makes the lithium-ion batteries.

Boeing last week told the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation what it intended to do to remedy problems behind the incidents involving Japanese carriers All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL).

The aircraft giant, which has bet heavily on its lightweight plane at a time when airlines are eager to slash fuel costs, desperately wants to get it back in the air.

But the paper, citing sources familiar with the matter, said GS Yuasa believes Boeing's package of fixes will not eliminate all possible risks to the power pack. A probe has found short-circuits caused a rapid rise in battery temperatures, but the search for the root of the short-circuit has so far proved elusive. GS Yuasa had no comment on the paper's report.

The worldwide grounding of all 50 Dreamliners in service has thrown airline schedules into disarray, especially in Japan. ANA, the biggest operator of the plane, has been forced to cancel more than 3,600 flights through to the end of May.

JAL said Thursday it would reduce the number of flights, including to San Diego, Boston and Honolulu, for two months from March 31 due to the global grounding.

But Conner insisted the plane was still a good bet.

"The 787, which is an airplane that we have developed with Japan, is still the game-changing airplane," he said.

"The performance of the aircraft outside this incident has been good. It is providing the airlines with the kind of savings that they expected, that we expected, and we are very hopeful that they will get back into the air very soon," he said.

-Kyoko Hasegawam AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013

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