Dreamliner may take to sky soon; FAA gives clearance
New Delhi: Air India's Dreamliner aircraft, grounded since January after battery fire incidents, may resume normal operations by mid-May with the US aviation regulator FAA approving Boeing's revamped battery system for these new generation long-haul aircraft.
"A team of engineers from Boeing is being flown into India and they are likely to start work by Monday to reset the new batteries on the six Dreamliners of Air India. They will work 24X7," DGCA chief Arun Mishra said.
Engineers of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Air India would be working with the Boeing team in Mumbai. They are expected to hand over all the six Boeing-787s by the first week of next month, he said.
After checks and test flights, if these are found successful, DGCA would withdraw its January 17 order of grounding these planes, Mishra said.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the new battery design made by the Japanese battery manufacturer and Boeing. Following the battery fire incidents, the entire global fleet of 50 Boeing-787s, owned by eight airlines, including Air India, was grounded.
Air India officials said all the affected airlines would now wait for FAA to issue an Airworthiness Directive in the next few days before they can start the work on getting the aircraft back in operation.
A team of over 20 engineers are being flown to India by Boeing to help Air India's engineering team install the new battery kit in each of the six aeroplanes, they said, adding it would take almost a week to install the new batteries on one plane but work would go on simultaneously on two planes.
"We will start flying only after we get at least two of these aircraft operational," airline officials said, adding that they hoped to start B-787 operations in the domestic sector from the middle of May and resume international flights to Paris and Frankfurt by May end.
Resumption of the Boeing-787 flights would see Air India expand its global footprint as it was already planning to launch flights to Rome, Moscow, Beijing and Melbourne or Sydney in Australia.
Before the grounding, the planes were being used for daily flights from Delhi to Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata on domestic routes, apart from Paris, Frankfurt and Dubai.
The beleaguered national carrier has been losing an estimated Rs 20 crore each week due to the grounding of the Dreamliners since January with the airplanes sitting idle at the Delhi airport.
The government has made it clear that it would seek compensation from Boeing for the disruption caused by the grounding, though Air India officials said the compensation issue would be taken up later.
"Our priority now is to get these planes back on air."
Air India was banking on the Dreamliners to help in its turnaround process as the aircraft are considered to be more fuel efficient. Since the planes are made of composite materials rather than aluminium, they are lighter than most other commercial aircraft.
Earlier in a statement from his Everett office in the US, Boeing chief Jim McNerney said, "FAA approval clears the way for us and the airlines to begin the process of returning the 787 to flight with continued confidence in the safety and reliability of this game-changing new airplane."
Boeing has deployed teams to locations around the world to begin installing improved battery systems on 787s. Kits with the parts needed for the new battery systems and the new batteries were being shipped to locations across the globe, including Mumbai.
"Airplanes will be modified in approximately the order they were delivered," the Boeing statement said, adding that the FAA lifting the grounding order "gives Boeing the go-ahead to begin retrofitting planes with an enhanced lithium ion battery system".