WASHINGTON — Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said his company is “very close” to getting its troubled 787 Dreamliner jet back flying again.
More problems have arisen for the supplier of the smoldering batteries that led to the grounding of Boeing’s 787 fleet.The New York Times reported that lithium-ion car batteries made by GS Yuasa have overheated in recent days.GS Yuasa is a Japanese company that also supplies lithium-ion batteries for the 787.Mitsubishi Motors said Wednesday a battery for its i-MiEV electric car caught fire March 18, according to the report. In a separate incident March 21, a battery in a hybrid Outlander car overheated and showed signs of melting. No one was injured, but Mitsubishi Motors planned to halt production and sales of the cars.“First, we need to clarify the cause,” said Ryugo Nakao, head of product and strategy development.While both are classified as lithium-ion batteries, Nakao said in the report that the aircraft and car versions are “structurally different.” They also are made in different factories using different materials.
Two incidents involving batteries on 787s led the Federal Aviation Administration and regulators in other countries to ground the planes in January.
Boeing is testing a redesign of the battery system.
“We have a high degree of confidence in the technical solution we are testing right now with the FAA,” McNerney said at an aviation conference Thursday. “I think it will be sooner than later.”
Boeing conducted a test flight with the redesigned battery Monday. McNerney expects the tests to conclude in a few days, and said the data should be conclusive enough to convince regulators to let the plane fly again.
Boeing assembles the 787 at plants in North Charleston and Everett, Wash. Boeing South Carolina has about 6,000 employees, Production has not been affected by the battery problems, plant officials have said.
McNerney called the grounding a “frustrating experience,” but said regulators are putting safety first.
“They have the best interest of the flying public in mind,” he said.
McNerney has made few public comments to date about the 787 problems. Thursday’s remarks came before a friendly crowd at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce aviation summit.
The 787 was just one of several topics McNerney was asked about by Thomas J. Donohue, the head of the chamber.
Regarding the economy, McNerney said, “It’s sort of bumping along. Very slow growth in the United States. Not fast enough to generate job growth.”
Boeing is doing better than the overall economy because airlines worldwide are replacing older planes with new, more fuel efficient jets. Purchases by developing countries are particularly strong, he said.
Boeing and European rival Airbus dominate the market for commercial aircraft, but McNerney expects to someday see strong competition from Chinese aircraft manufacturers. They have the money and technology to catch up with the two leaders, he said. China also has a large enough domestic market to buy the new planes, McNerney said.
The United States faces internal problems when it comes to aviation.
Aviation is expected to grow in the next two decades, but McNerney said not enough is being done to improve airports and air traffic control systems. Particularly, he said, the government needs to sort out funding issues surrounding a new satellite-based navigation system called NextGen.
The Post and Courier contributed to this report.