Boeing Co.’s new 787 Dreamliner will be allowed to resume limited test flights as soon as today after the jet was grounded for more than six weeks because of an electrical fire, three people familiar with the matter said.
The flights will start with one plane and be for company testing only, not for certification by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, said two of the people, who declined to be identified because Chicago-based Boeing hasn’t released the information.
Boeing is still analyzing the schedule for the plane’s initial delivery date, which has been delayed six times and was set for the first quarter of 2011 before the fire, the people said. The company probably won’t be able to announce the length of the latest postponement until January, the people said.
Flights for the six-plane test fleet were suspended after an electrical fire broke out Nov. 9 in a power panel of one of the jets and knocked out some controls, forcing an emergency landing in Laredo, Texas. The 787 is the first composite-plastic airliner and uses an all-electric system to save on fuel.
Boeing and the FAA declined to comment about the plans for a resumption of flight tests.
The Dreamliner’s commercial debut is three years late as Boeing struggles with the new carbon-fiber materials, parts shortages, redesign work and a greater reliance on suppliers. The jet began flying in December 2009 to win FAA approval for passenger service.
Since last month’s blaze, engineers have been redesigning part of the software for the 787’s electrical system to improve power distribution as well as altering the panels where the fire started. Boeing said last month that the incident probably was caused by “foreign debris” that got into the panel, leading to a short circuit or electrical arc.
The Dreamliner program will remain in operation while the rest of the company shuts down tomorrow for a holiday break until Jan. 4.
Boeing rose 33 cents to $64.94 at 1:40 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares fell 6.7 percent from Nov. 9 through yesterday, compared with a 3.7 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
The Dreamliner jets have been parked in and around Seattle, home to Boeing’s commercial headquarters, where they have been undergoing maintenance and ground tests while awaiting the FAA’s approval for the resumption of flights.
Talks in Seattle
John Hickey, the agency’s deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, met with Boeing executives in Seattle this month to discuss the 787’s engine and electrical system reliability, said Yvonne Leach, a Boeing spokeswoman. She said the talks centered on certification for the long-haul, trans-oceanic flights for which the company has marketed the jet.
“We are confident we will work through any issues or concerns that the FAA has in a cooperative and constructive manner,” Leach said yesterday.
The test jets fly around the world in search of various weather conditions for tests required by the FAA. With 847 advance orders, the 250-seat Dreamliner, which has an average list price of $202 million, is Boeing’s best-selling aircraft.
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