NEW DELHI: Air India’s six grounded Boeing 787 Dreamliners may again take to the skies and operate to new destinations as early as May 15 after technical changes approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the plane’s battery system are carried out, an official said.
A technical team from Boeing is in India and will install new battery systems in the national carrier’s B-787 fleet by early May, which the airline officials say will give them ample of time to restart services on existing and new routes.
“A Boeing team is arriving in India, in addition to another team which is already present here. They will be making some key technical changes to the battery system of at least two aircraft at a time,” a senior Air India official said.
According to official, the airline is hopeful of becoming the first passenger carrier to redeploy its B-787s initially on domestic routes and then to international destinations.
“Once new systems are installed and approved by DGCA, we will start operating these aircraft in no time. Hopefully by around May 15, initially on domestic routes, followed by international ones,” the official added.
The airline was operating its six B-787s from Delhi to Bangalore, Chennai, Dubai, Paris and Frankfurt.
The Dreamliner has been instrumental in replacing the fuel-guzzling Boeing 777 on some international routes, thus saving on costs and increasing efficiency.
Buoyed by the aircraft’s performance, the civil aviation ministry asked the airline to explore the possibility of operating it to Bali and Istanbul.
Air India was also planning to deploy the aircraft to Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore by the end of the current fiscal, the official said.
“We have slotted and scheduled some new routes that were being considered,” he added.
However, the decision to operate the B-787 will depend upon the final airworthiness certificate from FAA and DGCA.
The official added that airline is bearing the brunt of the grounded aircraft, as pilots and other staff were out of work and airport parking charges were piling up.
In January, the DGCA grounded all six Air India B-787 aircraft after an FAA directive to stop operations of all 50 such planes delivered so far to various airlines.
Though Air India did not face any technical problems with the new aircraft, other airlines which operate the B-787 had faced problems with the aircraft’s battery system overheating.
The batteries are part of an electrical system that replaces many mechanical and hydraulic ones common in previous jets.
Air India had booked 27 Boeing 787s in a mega deal in 2006. Air India is supposed to get seven more planes in 2013, five in 2014, six in 2015 and three in 2016.
The aircraft is unique as it is made of composite materials. Its newly-developed engine and advanced flight technologies makes it highly fuel-efficient. The plane can fly up to 16,000 km non-stop.
Apart from Air India, Ethiopian Airlines, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, LAN (Chile), LOT (Poland), Qatar Airways and United Airlines fly the aircraft.
There are orders for about 800 B-787s in the pipeline.