This story was last updated on Saturday, April 20, 2013.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed it has accepted Boeing's proposed fix to the 787 battery system. It says next week it will issue instructions to operators for making changes to the aircraft.
"Safety of the traveling public is our number one priority. These changes to the 787 battery will ensure the safety of the aircraft and its passengers," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
"A team of FAA certification specialists observed rigorous tests we required Boeing to perform and devoted weeks to reviewing detailed analysis of the design changes to reach this decision," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
The FAA says the 787 will not return to service until it is satisfied that all planes have been properly modified. Officials say inspectors will monitor the changes. Any return to service of the modified 787 will only take place after the FAA accepts the work.
The FAA decision means repairs start immediately. More than 300 technicians have already fanned out to grounded planes around the world. Work on each of the 50 planes will take five days.
Analyst Richard Aboulafia of Teal Group says the FAA’s approval is a major step forward.
"And if it does get approval and it does go ahead and there are no problems, this will be remembered as one of the most agile and impressive responses to a crisis in jetliner history," he said in a telephone interview. "But if it doesn’t go well, they don’t appear to have a backup plan. So we’ll have to see."
The final OK to fly the planes will not be the official end of the matter. The National Transportation Safety board says it is still intent on understanding how the original lithium-ion batteries could have been designed, built and certified by the FAA despite flaws that revealed themselves quickly once the 787 entered service. Boeing and manufacturers Thales and GS Yuasa will be called as witnesses.
Boeing must also face regulators elsewhere in the world. Published reports indicate Japan’s transport ministry is considering additional safety requirements, but nothing has been announced. Boeing did not comment.
Other countries have their own procedures for re-certifying the 787. The FAA says it will support them as they complete their work.