Boeing has asked US aviation authorities to let them carry out 787 Dreamliner test flights after the planes were grounded worldwide following a fire risk linked to the plane’s lithium batteries.

US and Japanese regulators grounded all Boeing 787 Dreamliners in mid-January until the problem can been resolved. Airlines around the world quickly followed.

“Boeing has submitted an application to conduct 787 test flights and it is currently under evaluation by the FAA,” said Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel.

The test flights will gather data on the lithium ion battery system and test a possible fix, sources with knowledge of the matter to the Seattle Times.

Dreamliner flights however will likely remain grounded for weeks, even months: when Boeing manages to fix the problem its engineers will still have to design, build and fully test the solution, the newspaper reported.

The US National Transportation and Safety Board investigation into a Japan Airline Boeing 787 battery fire in January “is moving swiftly and investigators are making progress daily,” said NTSB spokesperson Kelly Nantel.

The powerful lithium-ion batteries used on the Dreamliner have emerged as the focus of concern in light of the JAL incident and another on a All Nippon Airways, with smoke reported on both planes.

ANA has 17 Dreamliners and JAL has seven – almost half the 50 planes currently in operation worldwide. Boeing has orders for nearly 850.

United Airlines, the world’s biggest airline and currently the only US airline operating the 787, has six Dreamliners in service.

The new aircraft’s flight systems rely heavily on electronics rather than the hydraulics used in older planes, and Boeing’s use of lightweight composite materials is another breakthrough for airlines anxious to cut fuel costs.

(This article was published on February 5, 2013)
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