TOKYO -- Japanese aviation regulators on Friday gave a formal green light to restarting Boeing (IW 500/16) Dreamliner flights, clearing the way for the troubled aircraft to fly again after a three-month grounding.
The decision came on the heels of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issuing a formal approval for Boeing's 787 fix for batteries at the center of the crisis.
Japan Airlines (JAL) and domestic rival All Nippon Airways (ANA) account for half of the Dreamliners in service, but it could still be at least a month before they can complete the battery fix and get their planes in the air.
"We have reached the conclusion that there is no problem with the FAA's judgment," Japanese transport minister Akihiro Ota told reporters in Tokyo.
"We expect the fullest possible measures to be taken in order to prevent a recurrence of the incident," he added.
The ministry said it would require domestic airlines to undergo stringent testing and monitoring of the troubled planes before returning them to service.
The FAA and other regulators grounded the 50-strong worldwide Dreamliner fleet in mid-January after two failures of the innovative lithium-ion batteries on the jetliner.
The FAA's new airworthiness directive (AD) for the next-generation plane requires the installation of modified battery packs and their respective chargers, as well as battery enclosures and ducts.
"Once the aircraft are in compliance with the AD, they can return to service," an FAA spokesman said.
The directive caps a difficult three months for Boeing and its 787 customers, which have had to cancel thousands of flights and rearrange schedules after the grounding.
The FAA action technically affects just the six 787s of United Airlines, the sole U.S. airline owning the aircraft.
"But we expect foreign civil aviation authorities will order the same action," the FAA spokesman said.
Other airlines flying the Dreamliner include Ethiopian Airlines and Polish carrier LOT.
Following Japanese approval Friday, ANA said it hoped to make repairs on all its 17 Dreamliners by the end of May, adding that each jet would undergo a test flight while battery monitoring systems will be installed on the planes.
Return to Service
"Only when we are fully satisfied with the safety of our 787 fleet will we return the aircraft to service," ANA chief executive Osamu Shinobe said in a statement.
In the FAA's directive, the air-safety regulator said the battery modifications would minimise the safety risk posed by the overheated batteries in the January incidents.
Investigators are still unable to pinpoint the cause of the battery failures, the FAA noted.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is probing the January 7 battery fire aboard a Japan Airlines 787 parked at a Boston airport, has not yet determined the cause, it said.
The same was true for the Japan Transport Safety Board, which is investigating the battery failure on an ANA plane that forced an emergency landing in Japan, the agency said.
The FAA said it was issuing the directive without waiting for public comment, citing the grounding's cost to operators of the 787.
"While necessary in the short term to address the unsafe condition, this (grounding) caused a significant economic burden on domestic and international operators of Boeing Model 787-8 airplanes," it said.
"The purpose of this AD is to allow the aircraft to return to service as soon as possible by mandating a modification that will address the unsafe condition."
Cost of Modifications
The FAA estimated the cost of the required modifications on the six US-registered airplanes at $2.8 million.
United Airlines, reporting first-quarter earnings Thursday, said it took an $11 million charge related to the 787 grounding.
United chief executive Jeff Smisek said that domestic 787 flights would resume in May and the airline's first international 787 service -- a new nonstop link between Denver and Tokyo -- would begin on June 10.
"The grounding of the 787s had an impact on our bottom line and we are eager to get this remarkable aircraft back up and flying," he said.
On Wednesday, Boeing, reporting a 20 percent year-on-year jump in first-quarter profit, said the problems had only a "minor" financial impact.
The aerospace giant said it had begun battery modifications on 10 aircraft owned by airlines and nine planes being readied for delivery, and the installations were expected to be completed by mid-May.
Boeing confirmed its target of delivering more than 60 787s during 2013.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013