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Dreamliner completes crucial test flight. How big a deal?

The FAA still needs to approve the results of the test flight and certify the battery system. Boeing's 787 Dreamliner has been grounded since mid-January because of smoldering batteries.

By Staff writer / April 5, 2013

A LOT Polish Airlines 787 passenger jet takes off from Paine Field in Everett, Wash. The 787 Dreamliner flew a test flight Friday aimed at showing that the plane's new lithium-ion battery system meets regulatory safety standards – a key step in ending a two-month, worldwide grounding of the high-tech jet.

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Boeing’s troubled 787 Dreamliner passenger aircraft flew a crucial test flight Friday, one that could help determine whether the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gives it the go-ahead to resume commercial service.

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Brad Knickerbocker is a staff writer and editor based in Ashland, Oregon.

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The 787 Dreamliner has been grounded since mid-January because of smoldering batteries, including a fire on the ground in Boston. Boeing has designed what it says is a fix, including more heat insulation and a battery box designed so that any meltdown of the lithium-ion battery will vent the hot gasses outside the plane.

"Today's demonstration flight is the final certification test for the new battery system," Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said in a statement. "The purpose of the test is to demonstrate that the new system performs as intended during normal and non-normal flight conditions."

The FAA will still need to approve the results and certify the battery system before airlines can fly 787s again. Fifty 787s owned by eight airlines have been grounded worldwide. Nine days after the Boston battery fire, a second battery incident led to an emergency landing in Japan.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the Boston fire, which was traced to a short circuit in one of the battery's eight cells, USA Today reports. The safety board has scheduled a two-day forum on lithium batteries next week and a hearing on the Boston fire on April 23 and 24.

The Dreamliner's battery woes also has drawn the attention of the US Senate, reports the Everett (Wash.) Herald newspaper. The transportation committee will hold an April 16 hearing on the FAA's ongoing investigation of the 787.

As the Monitor reported earlier this year, the 787 is a next-generation airliner designed to be 20 percent more energy-efficient than earlier passenger jets. The 787's lithium-ion batteries are at the center of that leap forward: They produce more power relative to their size than do traditional nickel cadmium batteries, and the 787 relies on its batteries to do much more than previous jetliners have.

Until the recent battery problems, reports Boeing, there were about 150 daily flights of the Dreamliner by airlines including All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, United Airlines, and Air India.

International Airlines Group plans to buy 18 Dreamliners as it seeks to modernize the aging fleet of British Airways, its UK subsidiary, the Financial Times reported this week.

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declined to say when he will decide whether to end the grounding, Bloomberg News reports.

“We want to get it right,” Secretary LaHood said Friday. “We want to make sure that everything’s done correctly. We want to be able to assure the flying public that these planes are safe.”

The 792-mile test flight, which lasted just under two hours, began and ended at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. The test aircraft is scheduled for delivery to LOT Polish Airlines. Boeing has orders for another 800 Dreamliner aircraft.

 This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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