Dreamliners to make a comeback in Indian skies by May

By bappaditya paul

Boeing engineers have begun a modification exercise on the battery systems of Air India-owned six B-787 aircraft and on completion of the process, the Dreamliners will return to the Indian sky by the end of May, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Mr Arun Mishra, said on Saturday.Boeing B-787 aircratAround 50 B-787 aircraft that were in service across the globe, including AI’s six aircraft, were grounded in mid-January this year after two incidents of fire in the aircraft’s battery systems ~ one mid-air in a flight operated by Japan’s All Nippon Airways and the other in a parked 787 at Boston’s Logan International Airport belonging to Japan Airlines took place.

The modification exercise in India, which started on 25 April, is being carried out at the Air India hub in Mumbai where all the six B-787s lay grounded. The move comes after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) formally approved the modifications to the aircraft’s battery systems on 19 April. “Boeing sought our permission to carry out the modifications in AI-owned Dreamliners and we gave them a go ahead on the condition that our technical experts will be present during the exercise. The modification job was initiated two days ago and the task will be completed in 15 to 20 days,” Mr Mishra said over the phone.DGCA Arun MishraThe approved modifications to B-787’s battery system include design changes to both prevent and isolate a fault should it occur, introducing a new steel enclosure designed to keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or even being noticed by passengers.

Once the modification exercise is complete, DGCA will get a test-run done for all the six B-787s owned by AI and only after a positive result will the grounding order imposed on the aircraft be withdrawn.

“The AI pilots will also have to undertake a few test flights as they have not operated a B-787 for over three months now. Keeping all these factors in mind, I think the Dreamliners will return to our skies by the end of May,” the DGCA added.    Boeing B-787 battery systemAir India had placed an order for 27 B-787 aircraft, of which, six were delivered by Boeing starting early September last year. They were put into commercial operations for long-haul flights about a month later, only to be grounded this mid-January following the battery fire incidents.

Despite the disruption in deliveries caused by the battery problem, Boeing has stated in an official statement that it “expects to complete all planned 2013 deliveries by the end of the year”. The B-787 Dreamliner is a long-range, mid-size wide-body twin-engine jet aircraft developed by Boeing. It has a number of variants seating 210 to 290 passengers. It is also the world’s first large aircraft whose airframe has been primarily constructed using composite materials.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 29 April 2013.)

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