A top Boeing executive plans to meet with the head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday to propose fixes for the battery problems that have grounded its innovative 787 jets, industry and government officials said Wednesday.
They said the company feels confident that it has narrowed down the possible ways that the new lithium-ion batteries could fail, increasing the chances that a handful of changes might provide enough assurance that the batteries would be safe to use.
The FAA’s top official, Michael Huerta, is not expected to approve the changes Friday when he is scheduled to meet with Ray Conner, the president of Boeing’s commercial airplane division. But the meeting could start a high-level discussion and provide Boeing with early guidance on the mix of changes that would be needed to get the planes back in the air.
The government and industry officials agreed that Boeing will ultimately have to redesign at least part of the batteries to eliminate the risk that a short-circuit or fire in one of the eight cells inside could spread to the others, as investigators have said occurred on a battery that caught fire at a Boston airport on Jan. 7.
One important question is how far Boeing will have to go in making the changes before the FAA will let airlines resume flights with the 50 jets that have already been delivered.
The officials said Boeing might have to take some immediate steps to insulate the cells from one another and then make greater changes over time to further eliminate possible ways that the batteries could fail.
Boeing, based in Chicago, would also have to wall off the battery within a sturdier metal container, add systems to monitor the activity inside each cell and create channels to vent any hazardous materials outside the plane.
But it is not clear how long it will take to make each of these changes and test them to the satisfaction of regulators. So engineers for the FAA and Boeing have been discussing which changes would have to be made immediately and which ones could be added later.
Government and industry officials said that it was still too early to know if Boeing’s current plans would satisfy regulators and the flying public.