TOKYO – The president of All Nippon Airlines, Boeing's biggest single customer for its troubled 787 Dreamliner, said Friday that he believes the U.S. manufacturer has made progress in resolving problems with the aircraft's lithium-ion batteries.
How soon Boeing can fix the problems, which have led to the 787s being grounded worldwide for over a month, depends partly on the approval process by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, said Shinichiro Ito, who took up the positions of president of ANA Holdings Inc. and chairman of All Nippon Airways on Thursday.
"It isn't up to me to say how far they've gotten in resolving this," Ito said, after ANA management met earlier this week with Boeing CEO Ray Conner.
Connor is visiting Tokyo to explain to Japanese transport regulators and airlines his company's proposal for fixing the problems with overheating of the 787's lithium-ion batteries.
ANA, which has 17 of the 787s as Boeing's launch customer, has stood by the Dreamliner, while trying to minimize the impact on its operations from the battery fiasco.
"If the battery problem is resolved, I am confident the aircraft will be fine," Ito said. "Once the (Boeing proposal) is approved, we will discuss when to resume operations."
But Ito acknowledged that ANA has a challenge in reassuring its customers. If the grounding of the aircraft drags on beyond June, the carrier will have to make more drastic changes in its scheduling and other plans, he said.
On Thursday, Boeing's Conner met with Akihiro Ota, who heads the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and with the director general of the Civil Aviation Bureau.
"I just want to reiterate that the 787 is still the game-changing aircraft it is meant to be," Conner told reporters between meetings in Tokyo. He would not give details of Boeing's plan, but said it had come up with a solution "that addresses all probable causes of the incidents in the aircraft."
"It is not an interim solution. This is a permanent solution," Conner said. "We are very hopeful that we will get the aircraft back in the air very soon."
Dreamliners were grounded after an overheated battery aboard an ANA 787 domestic flight forced an emergency landing in Japan on Jan. 16. Investigators are still probing the cause of that event, and of a Jan. 7 fire that erupted in an auxiliary power unit battery of a JAL 787 about a half-hour after the plane landed at Boston's Logan International Airport.
Boeing's plan, presented to U.S. regulators last week, calls for revamping the batteries to prevent potential short-circuiting from spreading from any one battery cell to others.
Officials in the U.S. said Boeing would fix the problem with the batteries overheating by having more robust ceramic insulation around each of the battery's eight cells so as to prevent any thermal runaway, a chemical reaction that leads to progressively hotter temperatures that was found in damaged batteries in JAL and ANA incidents.
"This solution takes into account any possible event that might occur," Conner said. "We see nothing in the technology that would tell us it's not the appropriate thing to do," he said.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is considering the plan.
There are a total of 50 of the planes in service worldwide, and Boeing had orders for 800 of the airliners at the time they were grounded.
ANA has extended the cancellations of its 787 flights to May 31, with the total number of flights affected at nearly 3,600, involving some 167,820 passengers. JAL has cancelled its 787 flights through Mar. 30.