The aircraft – the most technologically advanced plane Boeing has ever built – was grounded by airlines around the world last month following a number of worrying incidents, including one in which a 787 in Japan had to make an emergency landing after a smoke alarm began sounding in the cockpit and another in which the Dreamliner caught fire on the ground at Boston Logan International Airport.
The cause of the problems appears to relate to the plane’s lithium-ion batteries which power its electrical system, though investigations are continuing.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday gave Boeing permission to conduct test flights to enable the US plane maker to “collect data about the battery and electrical system performance while the aircraft is airborne.”
“The traveling public’s safety is our highest priority,” the FAA said in a statement. “These test flights will be an important part of our efforts to ensure the safety of passengers and return these aircraft to service.”
The FAA added that in addition to its root cause analysis, it is also “conducting a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems, including the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly.”
Boeing said on Thursday that the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is helping to investigate the cause of the 787’s recent problems, had come up with new findings that “demonstrated a narrowing of the focus of the investigation to short circuiting observed in the battery.”
When it first went into commercial operation in 2011, the 787 Dreamliner was hailed for its revolutionary design and cutting-edge technology. With its super-efficient engines and light yet strong carbon fiber frame, the aircraft uses substantially less fuel than other similarly sized planes flying today.
However, it’s had something of a rough ride from the very start, with production and design issues causing a three-year delay in delivery to its first customer, Japan’s All Nippon Airways. And recent incidents – including a cracked windshield, a fuel leak and the current issue with the on-board batteries – has ensured the Dreamliner has stayed in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.