Dreamliner flying Uneventful trip a relief after 4-month grounding over battery

United pilots Niels Olufsen (left) and Bill Blocker prepare the cockpit of the Dreamliner for flight Monday at gate E7 at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. The Boeing 787 returned to service after a four-month grounding over its batteries.

Karen Warren

United Airlines put its 787 Dreamliner back in the air on Monday, with both the airline and Boeing Co. hoping to put the plane's four-month grounding behind them.

The trip from Houston to Chicago was just the kind of 787 flight that airlines are hoping for: uneventful.

Smoldering batteries on two 787s owned by other airlines prompted authorities to ground the planes in January. The failure of Boeing's newest, flashiest and most important plane embarrassed the company and its customers.

Both United CEO Jeff Smisek and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney were on Monday's flight, and United promoted the plane's return to service.

Said Smisek: “I'll tell you, Jim, it was a fairly expensive piece of sculpture to have on the ground so we're really delighted to have it up and flying.”

United is the only U.S. airline currently flying the 787. The airline, based in Chicago, said it will use 787s on shorter domestic flights before resuming international flying June 10 with new Denver-to-Tokyo service as well as temporary Houston-to-London flights. It's adding flights to Tokyo, Shanghai, and Lagos, Nigeria, in August.

Those long international flights are the main reason the 787 exists. Its medium size and fuel efficiency are a good fit for long routes. Starting with shorter domestic flights “will give us a period to ramp up full 787 operations,” United spokeswoman Christen David said.

Boeing assembles the airplane in North Charleston and Everett. Wash.

United's planes came from Pudget Sound. Four of its six 787s have been fixed. The airline said the other two will get the battery modification in the coming days.

Carriers including Japan Airlines and South America's LATAM Airlines Group, said profits took a hit because of the grounding. LATAM said it still had to make payments on the plane and pay for crews and maintenance. It expects to resume flying soon.

United was forced to delay planned international flights, and the grounding reduced first-quarter earnings by $11 million.

The two battery incidents in January included an emergency landing of one plane, and a fire on another. Federal authorities lifted the grounding order on April 19 but it has taken Boeing and the airlines a few more weeks to fix most of them.

The incidents disrupted schedules at the eight airlines that were flying the planes. The company had delivered 50 of the planes worldwide.

The 787 uses more electricity than any other jet. And it makes more use of lithium-ion batteries than other jets to provide power for items such as flight controls and a backup generator when its engines are shut down. Each 787 has two of the batteries.

Boeing Co. never did figure out the root cause of the battery incidents. Instead, it redesigned the battery and its charger. The idea was to eliminate all of the possible causes, 787 chief engineer Mike Sinnett said in an online chat on Thursday where he and a Boeing test pilot took questions about the plane.