When do 787s start flying?

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That was the prevalent question Friday afternoon to Boeing Vice President Mike Sinnett, the company’s chief 787 engineer, now that the FAA has given a thumbs up on the company’s solution to the lithium-ion battery issue that has grounded the world’s fleet since early January.

But he couldn’t answer it. 

Each airline will make its own decision based on its own standard recovery procedures for an airplane on ground (AOG) situation. AOG is one of commercial aviation’s most dreaded acronyms; it means an airplane that should be flying and making money is stuck someplace because it’s broken.

The world’s in-service fleet of 50 787s has been AOG since January, scattered at 17 different locations in nine countries. The most in any one location is Tokyo’s Haneda airport, where All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines have a combined 11 aircraft.

Despite the uncertainties of when a battery kit will be delivered to each aircraft and when crews will begin working, it’s an easy guess that flights will not resume for at least a few weeks.

The repair kits could not be pre-positioned with the airlines in anticipation of the FAA’s approval because federal law requires them to remain with the manufacturer until the agency acts. Boeing has sent them to its global spares repositories but they still need to be physically shipped to the airlines.

New batteries are being shipped from the manufacturer, Japan’s GS Yuasa.

Sinnett says it will take five days to install the kits on each aircraft’s two lithium-ion batteries. The work can be done by airline MRO crews, but he expects the carriers to call on Boeing’s 10 teams. The 300-plus employees involved include airline advisors, engineers, quality inspectors and mechanics.

Boeing covers the cost of the parts and the work of the AOG teams.  

The kits include the necessary hardware to install a new stainless steel battery enclosure as a fire safety measure, a vent line assembly designed to prevent a fire by robbing the sealed unit of oxygen, a battery charger, wire bundles and associated hardware.

Friday’s go-ahead by the FAA does not become official until it is posted in the Federal Register. But that check off formality is expected before any of the downed aircraft are ready to fly.

Other procedural requirements still to be completed include operational approval by each customer’s regulatory authority that the installation has been properly completed on each aircraft.

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