Huerta: Dreamliner decision 'very soon'

April 16, 2013 at 8:58 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 16 (UPI) -- U.S. aviation official Michael Huerta said in Washington Tuesday he expects a decision soon on letting Boeing's grounded 787 Dreamliner back into service.

Huerta, director of the Federal Aviation Administration, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee the agency is reviewing Boeing's tests of the Dreamliner's revamped lithium ion batteries. The jetliner has been grounded since problems developed with the internal battery system, which has been linked to two fires.

Huerta noted Boeing has redesigned the internal battery components and conducted extensive testing, including limited test flights without passengers.

"The FAA is currently reviewing these test reports and analysis to make sure that the 787's new battery system ensures the safety of the aircraft and its passengers," he told the senators during a hearing on aviation safety.

While Huerta didn't provide the senators with a time frame for allowing the 787s back into commercial service, The Seattle Times reported Huerta said after the hearing a decision would come "very soon."

In response to a question from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Huerta said the FAA also is considering whether to allow the 787 to be used on flights up to 180 minutes long as it was authorized before being grounded.

"... When we make our final determination with respect to return to flight, we will also address that question," Huerta said.

"This is a determination and a recommendation that's made by all technical experts. It was my decision to ground the fleet. And I would be the one making the recommendation going forward."

Not allowing flights up to 3 hours would curtail airlines' ability to use the aircraft on longer flights.

The Times noted Boeing has wanted to get the 787 approved for flights up to 5.5 hours before the battery problem arose in January.

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